THE most passionate patient champions have shared some of the pain and joy of the people they fight for.
Peter Pinfield, chairman of HealthWatch Worcestershire, can never be accused of living in an ivory tower, looking down his nose at the little people scuttling around on the streets below – because he feels like one of them.
The former Labour councillor cared for his mum until the end of her life and battles type two diabetes like his daughter.
The 65- year-old, from Droitwich, prefers the cosy clutter of his upstairs office to the long and lonely corridors of power, and his garden and guitar to the weighty briefcase and grey suit of the jargon-spouting bureaucrat.
The down-to-earth pensioner, born in 1948, the year the NHS was formed, said: “I have been out there – when my mum was on the floor, when she was dying, and that is an important experience you bring.
“The decision-makers at the top really are out of touch with patients on the frontline. Do they really understand what ordinary people go through?
“Do they understand the pressure of looking after someone seven days a week when you haven’t money to buy any food, when you have got to switch the radiators off?
“Do they understand what it is like if you’re in hospital and no one comes to change you or feed you?
“It’s about how I would want to be treated, how I would want my family to be treated and when there are shortcomings it’s not good enough.
“But I’m proud of the NHS and in a sense I’m a child of the NHS – it has saved members of my family. It keeps my daughter alive who has diabetes and it provides a service for my grandson. But HealthWatch is not about Peter Pinfield – it’s about all the people of Worcestershire.”
HealthWatch, billed as the eyes and ears of the public, becomes a statutory body in April 2013 after existing in shadow form. It has the power of ‘enter and view’, inherited from the previous patient body LINk, which it supersedes.
HealthWatch is not a talking shop or a toothless tiger. It has power enshrined in law to enter hospitals, nursing homes and day centres, sometimes unannounced, so board members get a flavour of what’s going on day-to-day on a particular ward or care setting.
Information will be fed into HealthWatch by a steering group, a forum which represents the views of the elderly, people with learning disabilities and those with mental health problems.
So far 26 different organisations are involved but Mr Pinfield says there really is no limit on the number of people who could contribute.
The role of HealthWatch is to represent as many of Worcestershire’s 550,000 people as it can.
The body has direct contact with the chief executives of county NHS trusts such as Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which manages the three district hospitals, including Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester, and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust, which runs the five community hospitals in Malvern, Pershore, Evesham, Tenbury and Bromsgrove, and mental health services.
Mr Pinfield pictures HealthWatch as a little like a parliamentary health select committee which holds leaders to account but on a local level.
HealthWatch will also have close links with the national health and social care watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, and will have better access to the Secretary of State for Health then ever before, he said.
In theory, if a member of the board wants to go to A&E in Worcester at 1am, they have that power.
He said: “If somebody said, ‘This is about people’s safety and there’s a risk’, wouldn’t any one of us want it to be dealt with straight away? I certainly would.”
Urgent concerns can be responded to swiftly, possibly with a visit that same day or, at the very least, within 24 hours.
Equally important will be the communication and constructive dialogue between HealthWatch and NHS trusts and with its parent body, HealthWatch England.
Mr Pinfield said people need to be aware of the challenges facing the NHS, specifically the ticking time bomb of a growing elderly population with complex needs.
Worcestershire has to make savings of £200 million over the next three years, including £50 million from our hospitals as demand increases faster than the cash available to pay for it which has led to fears about the future of services at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch.
Mr Pinfield said: “Most people know my reputation – I will not let something go and If I have to meet directly with David Cameron, that’s what I will do. We’re not accountable to the county council – the only people we’re accountable to are the people of Worcestershire.
“I’m tough and passionate and a practical person. Whenever I’m in a formal meeting with ministers and chief executives I would hope they would recognise I’m there to represent the views of the people of Worcestershire. They may not like the message but it has to be said. I do ruffle some feathers sometimes but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t doing that.”