Voices Of Communities Continue To Be Heard

The community and voluntary sector in the west of Ulster is currently working closely with the Western Health and Social Services Board to host two major workshops. The first of these workshops organised by Fermanagh Rural Community Network and Omagh Forum for Rural Associations was held recently in Killadeas.

The workshop looked at how the voices of local communities can continue to be heard in relation to health and social care issues during the major changes facing organisations in the health and social services sector.

Public services in Northern Ireland will be reformed and streamlined over the next few years under the review of public administration. This will involve a major restructuring in local government, and in how other services such as health and social care and education are to be organised in future. As a direct result of this, the community and voluntary sector also faces a significant period of change.

Under the reform of local Government, it is planned that the new councils will be given lead responsibility for community planning and the power of wellbeing. Councils will be required to work with many agencies and stakeholders, including the community and voluntary sector, to ensure the needs of their communities are dealt with in a joined-up way – through a community planning approach.

The community and voluntary sector in the West is keen to play its part in ensuring that community planning is effective and that engagement with all stakeholders is real and purposeful.

Five community networks in the Western area are working with WHSSB to look at how the Board, the networks, and those represented by networks, can work together to ensure that the voice of the community and voluntary sector continues to be heard on health and social care issues during the major changes now being introduced in this sector.

Commenting on the proposed changes, Aidan Bunting, co-ordinator of Omagh Forum for Rural Associations said, “The plans to re-organise the health and social care system has included the replacement of the existing boards with a single health and social services authority incorporating local commissioning groups. The plans also include proposals to further devolve decisions on what services should be put in place to meet the needs of local communities by introducing arrangements known as community commissioning associations. These arrangements would look after the needs of self-forming ‘natural communities'”.

Mr Bunting welcomes the partnership approach between the community and voluntary sector, through the networks, and the WHSSB to hold two workshop events to look at what community planning would mean in the context of health and social care.

Mr Bunting added that there is no doubt that RPA brings with it many challenges for everyone across all sectors, but what needs to be held onto is that all these changes must deliver on the goal of improving quality of care and responsiveness of public services to meet the needs of local communities. This is something we all want – but it is important that the communities and their advocates are involved at all key stages of the process and at all levels of decision making.