A GROUP that strives to ensure Darlington residents get the best possible healthcare has become the first in the region to operate completely independently.

Healthwatch Darlington Limited is part of a national Healthwatch network established by the Government to ensure local patients and users have a greater input to shaping services locally.

It works with patients, carers, residents, voluntary and community groups, as well as health service providers and commissioners, to try and identify and solve problems within the sector.

The wealth of intelligence gathered though the analysis of areas of concern, good practice and complaintsis then used to influence and improve health and social care services in Darlington.

This month the group became the first in the North East to successfully float as an independent Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee.

Transfer of the contract from the Carers Federation, who originally won the tender to deliver Healthwatch Darlington, was signed over to the volunteer board of directors after being approved by Darlington Borough Council in March.

Michelle Thompson, chair of Healthwatch Darlington, said: “We need to ensure that all commissioners and providers of health and social care services, including the voluntary and community sector, identify, understand and act upon warning signs.

“We make sure the patient, carer and public voice is not only heard but listened to and acted upon within the very heart of decision making in Darlington.

“Everyone must learn to embrace concerns and complaints as a source of intelligence, which provide opportunities for learning and, crucially, a lever to make services better.”

To celebrate the group’s new status, an official launch event is being held on April 30 at the Mercure Kings Hotel, Priestgate.

There will be a choice of three sessions for the public to attend; from 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 4pm or 6pm to 8pm.

There will also be a new opportunity to register an interest in becoming a member of the Healthwatch Committee.

To confirm attendance at the launch event, contact 01325 380145 or email info@healthwatchdarlington.co.uk