Your target in a local campaign is likely to be either the local council, the local education authority, the local hospital trust or primary care trust (PCT) and the key decision makers in these organisations. It is important to find out who these people are. See below for further information.
All local councils differ in their structure to some degree. As far as lobbying is concerned, the two main bodies are the Executive and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The Executive is part of the council and is responsible for most day-to-day decisions. It is made up of a leader and a number of councillors who are sometimes referred to as the cabinet. Each cabinet member has a portfolio of responsibility and so it is important to find out which cabinet member to target. However, there would be nothing wrong in writing to each member of the cabinet as well as the leader.
Contact details for members of the Executive and the Overview and Scrutiny Committees can be obtained directly from the council, from the local library, town hall and in most cases from the council’s website. As the structure of all local councils differ, it is worth checking to make sure you are writing to the right people.
Overview and Scrutiny Committees support the work of the Executive by producing reports and recommendations in order to advise the Executive and they also scrutinise the Executive’s decisions. A council may have several Overview and Scrutiny Committees, each one concerned with different aspects within the community. It is important to identify which committee is responsible for your particular issue, before writing to its members.
The support of individual councillors can also benefit your campaign as they can:
- take up individual cases with officers and discuss issues with their political colleagues;
- speak up on your behalf in committees and council meetings;
- attract local media interest if they meet with your group.
Always remember that councillors are elected to represent your interests and you have a right to contact them.
- All council meetings (committees and sub committees) have to be publicly advertised five days before they take place.
- All agenda and background papers have to be available for public inspection before meetings.
- The public are allowed to attend all council, committee and sub committee meetings.
- All council minutes, agendas and reports have to be available to the public for at least six years after the meetings have taken place and background papers for at least four years.
The National Health Service
Since devolution took place, the structure of the National Health Service (NHS) in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is different in each country. Those responsible for making decisions varies greatly between the nations. If you want to campaign for a new or improved epilepsy service, you would need to target whoever was responsible for purchasing local services.
In England, strategic health authorities (SHAs) are responsible for overseeing and supporting the NHS locally; they also ensure that there is a link between the NHS and the PCTs. PCTs are responsible for deciding exactly which health services the local population needs (e.g. GPs, hospitals, dentists, pharmacies etc) and for ensuring these services are provided. PCTs are also responsible for purchasing hospital and specialist services from the local NHS hospital trusts. NHS hospital trusts are the main providers of hospital-based services. The address of your local PCT and hospital trust can be found at NHS England.
Every NHS hospital trust and PCT in England should have a Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) attached to it. PALS are an impartial and strictly confidential service offering advice to anybody with concerns about the health services. PALS therefore is a service that it would be good to contact initially. Not only can they give advice and information about local health services, but also, all comments and concerns have to be noted and passed on to the relevant trust, with a view to improving services. They will also be able to give you the correct contact details of the most appropriate person to address in your campaigning.
Wales does not have PCTs, instead it has NHS Trusts and Local Health Boards. Both have their own funding and so it is worth targeting the local NHS Trust and the Local Health Board in any campaign. Details of NHS Trusts and Local Health Boards can be found at www.wales.nhs.uk.
In Northern Ireland, there are four Health Boards, these are similar to PCTs. Within these, there are nineteen Trusts, which are the equivalent to the NHS hospital trusts in England. However, there are differences. Please contact Epilepsy Action if you need clarification.
As from April 2006, Scotland will have 14 Health Boards and it is these that are responsible for providing health care services. Your local Health Board should be the focus of your campaign. Details of your local Health Board can be found at www.show.scot.nhs.uk. It would be worth contacting your local Health Board to see if they have a working party for epilepsy services. If so, this would be your first point of contact.
Address any correspondence to the Chief Executive. Other useful names and addresses can be obtained from NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or NHS Helpline (Scotland) on 0800 224488 or contact your GP for details.
Local education services
Before trying to campaign for changes in your local education system, it is important to address any concerns you have to your child’s school directly. It is best to speak to the class teacher first, then if you are still unsatisfied with the outcome speak to the head of year (at secondary school level) and then the head teacher. If you are discussing a health-related issue with the school, it may be advisable to invite your child’s epilepsy nurse or another health professional to a meeting with the school staff. Parents can also raise issues with the school’s governing body.
If you believe the school is not fulfilling its duty or responsibility on important issues, such as health and safety, then this is something that should be raised with the local authority.
A useful website to help identify important school issues is the government’s education site for parents. This can give you an idea of whether or not your local school is fulfilling its responsibilities to your child.
If you have decided you need to take further action, contact your local education authority (LEA). The LEA is a department within the local authority. You can find contact details for your LEA on the government’s LEA Gateway website. All LEAs are structured differently and the way they work varies depending on where you live. The LEA Gateway website can give you the name of the Director of Education for your LEA and contact details, as well as the website for your local authority.
Special Educational Needs Regional Partnerships (SENRPs) are a useful point of contact if you want to influence the way a local school or LEA supports children with special educational needs (SEN). SENRPs were formally established in 1997 to improve the consistency of SEN support in schools and LEAs across England. SENRPs are made up of representatives from regional schools and local authorities. They are centrally co-ordinated by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the government has confirmed SENRPs will continue until at least the end of March 2006 when current funding runs out.