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Welsh children's commissioner will have powers over hospitals

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 16 December 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1492
  1. Roger Dobson
  1. Abergavenny

    The new children's commissioner for Wales is to have powers covering NHS hospitals. It was originally expected that the role of the commissioner, the first in the United Kingdom, would be concerned with children in care, but a new parliamentary bill to be published shortly is designed to expand significantly the brief to cover the NHS and schools.

    Under the proposals in the bill, the newly appointed commissioner, Peter Clarke, will have a range of additional powers.

    “The bill is expected to expand the commissioner's role by applying the commissioner's powers to review and monitor arrangements for complaints, whistleblowing and advocacy on behalf of children to a wider range of bodies, including schools and NHS hospitals which provide services for children in Wales,” said a spokesman for the Wales Office.

    A National Assembly spokesman said that the brief would apply to hospitals in Wales: “Jurisdiction under the bill will not extend to the services themselves if they are provided outside Wales. However, the commissioner will be able to look at and comment on the action of public bodies in Wales in arranging such services provided outside Wales.”

    Many Welsh children, particularly from mid-Wales, and those needing some regional specialties, are routinely treated in England.

    Peter Clarke, aged 52, the new commissioner who is currently director of Childline Wales, will take up his £70 000 ($98 000) a year job in about three months. In its first year, the commissioner's office will have a budget of up to £700 000, but that is expected to increase as more responsibilities come on board.

    Wales, which has been at the centre of a number of child abuse investigations, including the Waterhouse Tribunal into abuse in children's home in north Wales, becomes the first part of the United Kingdom to have a children's commissioner. Health minister Jane Hutt, who has been spearheading the plans for a children's commissioner for some time, said, “Wales is taking the lead in the UK in placing the rights and needs of our children and young people centre stage. The appointment itself was an innovative process that took into account the views of children and young people.”

    The new post is for a fixed seven year term, without the possibility of reappointment, an arrangement designed to bolster the commissioner's independence from the Assembly.

    Several other countries already have their own children's commissioners. New Zealand made one of the first appointments in 1989; some Scandinavian countries and British Columbia also have commissioners. The NSPCC (the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) and other agencies have been campaigning for some time for other regions of the United Kingdom to have similar champions for children.

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