A Birmingham patient watchdog body set up with more than £1 million of NHS and council cash has been heavily criticised for spending the past 18 months “getting started”.
Birmingham LINk, created to be the go-to organisation for city residents’ concerns on health and social services, still only has 500 active members and has been accused of wasting taxpayer’s money.
Health scrutiny members have taken issue with its “slow start” with claims that no-one knows who the group is.
Resident Gerry Moynihan also questioned what role Gateway Family Services had with LINk, as the company has been named as the group’s host and is due to receive £445,000 of LINk’s £650,000 budget for this year.
Despite serving a city with more than one million people, only 46 people voted in LINk’s first election to put in place a core management.
Funded jointly by the Department of Health and Birmingham City Council for three years, the group aimed to be a replacement of Patient and Public Involvement Forums only has a guarantee of investment until March next year.
Scrutiny member Coun Anne Underwood (Con Sutton Four Oaks) said: “Membership still seems very small and a lot of people wouldn’t know what LINk is.
“I am worried that a lot of resources are going into this and I don’t see what it’s achieving.”
Coun Margaret Byrne (Lab Shard End), questioned why funding had stopped for the Handy Man community project in Shard End yet such large amounts of money were going to LINk.
“I get quite angry to see a lot of money going into this when I can’t see what it is doing,” said Coun Byrne.
“The Handy Man service helped frail, disabled and elderly people with their gardens, decorating and getting to the opticians. It was a gift from heaven for many, helping people’s physical and mental health.”
Maria Bailey, LINk project manager, said the group now had 504 active members but a total membership of 1,352 people and 114 groups.
She added that as a “listening and engagement organisation”, it was still trying to develop its own identity.
“LINk has been looking inside and developing its structure over the past 18 months,” said Ms Bailey.
“Now we have a good and diverse membership, we will start looking outwards and meet the need that we were initially set up for.
“It is hard to measure (if we can have influence) and whether LINk is value for money is something for the Scrutiny Committee to make its own judgement.”
Nick Hay, chairman of Birmingham LINk, added that a meeting was planned in the coming week to decide the group’s three priorities for the coming year.
Mr Hay conceded that discussions with the city primary care trusts were way behind schedule and that the group had not started interacting with most council departments yet.
Mr Moynihan, from Bordesley, who has an interest in health issues, first raised concerns over LINk last year when it spent £253,372 in its first six months to register 134 people.
“My main concerns in LINk’s budget allocated and level of engagement it achieves within the city,” said Mr Moynihan. “We are entering the last 12 months of the funding and not even the councillors present at the meeting, in my opinion, understood what the LINk is for.”