Health watchdog’s concerns over Norfolk County Council budget cuts

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk.

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. - Credit: Archant

A health watchdog has accused Norfolk County Council of not providing enough information over its proposals to plug a £189m funding gap.

A consultation on proposed budget cuts at County Hall is set to end on Thursday.

However, officials at Healthwatch Norfolk said the county council had not provided enough information to engage the people of Norfolk in a meaningful debate.

The watchdog, which was formed in April following a radical shake-up of the NHS, has submitted its concerns over the authority's plans after attending consultation events and listening to the concerns of the public and service users.

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said he had written to council leader George Nobbs highlighting his concerns about the impact of proposed cuts on community care, people with disabilities and people who hold a personal budget for their social care.

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Mr Stewart added that the council's consultation materials imply that money from central government to promote integration between NHS and council services may be used to partially offset the £189m shortfall in Norfolk's budget over the next three years. However, this is not new money, he said.

Mr Stewart said he had 'serious concerns' about the approach the council has taken to addressing the required savings.

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He said: 'One of Healthwatch's biggest concerns is that the budget proposals published by the council don't provide enough detail to engage Norfolk's population in a meaningful debate. People are being asked for their opinion on cuts to frontline services but there is no assessment of what the impact will be on the lives of individual service users and their families.'

Norfolk County Council's Putting People First consultation is due to end on Thursday.

Some of its proposals include cutting some people's personal social care budgets as part of plans to save £12m and changing the way disabled people get care, which could mean some people may no longer get care provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Mr Stewart added: 'I don't what to make light of the enormous challenge facing the council but it's a bit like a maths test – they need to show their working. Many of the proposed changes will make a big difference to the quality of life for sick, vulnerable and frail people, we need to see the council has understood what that impact will be and they need to share that knowledge with us all.'

Steve Morphew, cabinet member for finance at Norfolk County Council, said: 'We have been very open and honest about the facts and figures behind Putting People First – it's all there for people to read about .

'We will also be showing all our workings about the impact of the proposals – this is just the sort of information that we are gathering from the 40 plus meetings we've attended across the county listening to the views and experiences of different people using our services and we'll be carefully considering all responses before the budget is set in February.'

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