A drive for more volunteers will be led by the chief executive of the watchdog for health and social care in Wiltshire.

Emma Cooper joins Health-watch Wiltshire as its first chief executive later this month and wants the organisation to gain prominence.

Healthwatch has been set up across the country as part of the Government’s reforms of the NHS and social care.

Mrs Cooper said a key part of establishing Healthwatch’s role as the consumer champion for health and social care was having volunteers representing all parts of the county.

She said: “We have got a variety of roles for volunteers: associates, ‘friends’ of Health-watch who work in their communities helping with surveys and collecting information for us; volunteers with specialist roles; and those we will train up to enter and view health and social care services.”

The power to enter and view will enable volunteers to visit care homes, hospitals, GP surgeries and dentists.

Mrs Cooper said: “The visits will be planned and announced. It’s about getting a lay perspective of people’s experiences of services. The clinical care needs might be excellent, but if a provider has other bits wrong, such as dignity and privacy, people’s experience might be impaired.”

One of Healthwatch’s specific tasks this year will be to find out from young people what health and social care issues are important to them.

Healthwatch Wiltshire has three employees, including Mrs Cooper, and a board of directors. Mrs Cooper has ten years’ experience in local government; her last job was as manager for communities and voluntary sector support at Wiltshire Council.

She said: “We want people to know Healthwatch is there for them.”

Healthwatch is holding meetings for people interested in becoming volunteers on January 29 at the Corn Exchange, Devizes, from 10am to noon; on February 4 at Salisbury Methodist Church, St Edmund’s Street, from 1-3pm and on February 6 at the Neeld Hall, Chippenham, from 10am to noon.

For more details, call Lucie Woodruff on 01225 434218 or email lucie.woodruff@healthwatchwiltshire.co.uk