Stewart Francis takes on the strategic role from October 1 with a remit to influence and achieve change in health and care services and make them the best they can be for patients, care users and the public.
Until last year, Francis headed the board of not-for-profit trust Vivacity, which ran leisure, heritage, arts, library and health and wellbeing services in Peterborough for 10 years.
Healthwatch, an independent organisation, makes sure that local people’s voices and concerns about the services they use are heard by NHS leaders and other decision-makers across our area.
Francis’ appointment comes at a time of big changes and challenges in health and care services.
Across England, there are record numbers of people waiting for operations. And locally, Healthwatch says the biggest issues for people are finding an NHS dentist and accessing GP services. There are also long waits for young people’s mental health services.
On top, there are NHS services to restore, the continuing impact of Covid, health inequalities to tackle – and a new health and care system under construction in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
But former broadcaster and public service director Stewart says he’s looking forward to the opportunities ahead.
“Representing people, understanding the issues they face and challenging systems – it’s in my DNA.
“It’s a time of big change, with much greater demands than ever before on our health and care services. So there’s never been a more important time for local people to be heard and involved in shaping the services they use,” he says.
As well as a successful career as a broadcaster and managing director in commercial radio, Stewart has also led public and charity organisations.
His past roles have included chairing the former Rail Passengers Council and the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority which made the decisions leading to Royal Papworth Hospital’s move to Cambridge and the building of Peterborough City Hospital.
Francis said: “The NHS and social care are doing fantastic things but being challenged particularly by lack of money and staff.
“Healthwatch is conscious of all those pressures and wants to be helpful and will continue to work for change with GPs, hospital trusts, local authorities and other partners to improve services for people.
“But when things are wrong or change is planned, patients and service users need to know somebody is on their side. Healthwatch most definitely is – and I will be a passionate champion for them.”
His priorities at Healthwatch include helping to develop the new Integrated Care System which comes into force across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough next April.
This joins up healthcare, public health and social care. And brings together local authorities, district councils, hospital providers, community providers, GP practices and social enterprise and voluntary organisations under one umbrella - with a statutory duty to work together.
The aim is for people to get care closer to home, break down barriers between different services and give everyone the same opportunities to live long and healthy lives.
“Historic health inequalities across our area remain and have been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic.
"We need to do more – and Healthwatch is working hard to make sure that everyone can access good quality care, wherever they live", He added.