If Dr Sarah Wollaston loses the Health Select Committee chair, we may lose a Parliamentary champion

Sarah Wollaston...May0016214 Daily.TelegraphFor Features; Pic shows Sarah Wollaston, the new Conservative parliamentary candidate for Totnes in Devon. Pictured in Totnes.
(Last Updated On: February 24, 2019)

It is probably too early to tell if Government whips will try to remove Tory defector, Sarah Wollaston from being chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee. She is also chair of the powerful Liaison Committee. Becoming one of the Independent MPs will not necessarily lower her profile, but may of course diminish her influence on Government.

Over the years she has been one of Parliament’s most effective champions of public consultation, being especially vocal about the need for the NHS to engage better with the public over major service re-configurations. Indeed, when the ineptly-labelled Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) emerged in 2016, she was among those who argued that they should have been subject to consultation.

Previously she had been a critic of consultations about closing community hospitals, and, as a GP herself, carried some weight in her analysis. She argued that the NHS was prone only to reveal partial information to the public, and once spoke in the House of Commons about the need for more honesty in consultation documents. To the extent that NHS consultations have improved in recent years, she can take credit for having consistently reminded Simon Stevens in NHS England and his Ministerial bosses of the need to take public engagement seriously.

Generally speaking, too few Select Committees have paid sufficient attention to public consultation, so we hope Dr Wollaston retains her role. One of their most important Inquiries at the moment is on the NHS long-term plan for England which forecasts dramatic changes in service delivery in the coming years. Whilst much of the debate right now is about money, those areas where rationalisation of hospitals or other access-related issues become controversial will soon be launching public consultations. We need Parliamentarians to keep the focus on the rights of NHS patients and those who represent them to have their say, and to defend those rights at all times.

Judges are very willing to intervene if they think the NHS rides roughshod over consultee rights; a good example was the case of Buckingham V Corby CCG last year. But it should not be necessary for campaigners to go to Court to demand a proper public consultation. That’s why we need prominent politicians to bang the drum for more effective dialogue over public services and much else.

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Apart from five years studying in Oxford I’ve lived most of my life in London where for many years I was Head of English in a prestigious girls’ school, but since taking early retirement and heading West to be nearer to my two daughters - settling in Torbay with my wife, Anna, in 2011 - I’ve worked in the voluntary sector. I took on the role of Service Provider, for example, promoting the Red Cross Torbay Navigators Project, while now I’m a Trustee and part of the Media Team for our local Healthwatch. I’m a governor at Torquay Academy, too, giving me the chance to stay up to date with what’s happening in the world of education. Other interests, aside from friends and family, include art and art history, reading - from contemporary fiction and poetry to Elizabethan/Jacobean literature - history, politics, cooking, walking, and music, in particular Bob Dylan, the blues, and early Elvis. I love writing, too, with one novel published so far – Elvis in Wonderland – and another, Who’s There?, that still needs plenty of work!