After a marathon debate in the Town Hall on Wednesday, councillors decided by a significant majority to throw out a recommendation to form a ‘shadow’ health and social care partnership board between the SIC and NHS.
As reported in last week’s Shetland Times, several councillors had already expressed serious concerns about the proposal, highlighting the threat to democratic accountability and the risks of making the change before the relevant legislation is discussed by the Scottish parliament.
The intention was to form a shadow committee, comprising seven councillors and seven members of the health board. This would replace both the social services committee and the community health and social care partnership committee.
The question and answer session between councillors and the director of corporate services Christine Ferguson over the matter was lengthy, and at times seemed to raise more queries than it resolved. Though Jonathan Wills later praised Mrs Ferguson for her “comprehensible” responses, there were more than a few baffled faces around the chamber as she attempted to clarify some of the many points of uncertainty.
Those concerns previously rehearsed in this paper were aired again at the meeting, including the “democracy deficit”, in Dr Wills’ words, and the potential incompatibility of the two organisations. Billy Fox foresaw a potential “bunfight” between the council and NHS over the responsibility for any failures experienced under the new committee, and several members were worried about pre-empting the legislation, which will not be enacted until 1st April 2015.
Gary Robinson argued that the recommendation should be passed. “I recognise that there are concerns among members” he said. “There is a perception that we’re moving too fast.”
However, he went on, “It’s important to recognise that nothing we’re looking at today can’t be changed … I think we have an opportunity to get on with this and hopefully influence the legislation”. The partnership may even “help to bring the health board kicking and screaming into a more democratic place than it is today” he said.
North Isles member Gary Cleaver introduced an amendment, however, proposing that “we refrain from setting up a shadow board”, and also that housing issues be removed from the plan to continue integrating health and social care services.
“Nobody could sensibly say that integrating health care and social care is not a good idea”, he said. But he could not accept the proposal in its current form.
After a debate lasting almost two hours, councillors voted 10–6 in favour of Mr Cleaver’s amendment.