HC Deb 03 June 1980 vol 985 cc1233-5
9. Mr. Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what role he sees for community health councils in the future of the National Health Service.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I am considering with care the many comments we have received on paragraph 26 of " Patients First " about the future of community health councils, and I shall announce my decision next month.

Mr. Renton

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he not consider that even if, at times, they have been a bit cumbersome, CHCs have played a useful role in involving local people in local health and hospital decisions? When the area health authorities disappear, will not this neighbourhood participation in local decisions become even more important?

Mr. Jenkin

I am in no doubt that many CHCs have made a constructive and helpful contribution to their local health services. In " Patients First " we acknowledged—indeed, we are grateful for it—the time and energy that many CHC members have devoted to their role. Whether this role remains as valid as it is now, given the proposed changes in the general structure of the NHS, is something that I am considering, and on which I shall announce a decision next month.

Dr. Roger Thomas

Will the Minister consider ameliorating the rather ominous and loaded emphasis in the consultative document " Patients First " on the costs of CHCs?

Mr. Jenkin

The point has been made on behalf of CHCs that if they did not exist many of these costs would be incurred by health authorities because they would have to deal with the public and provide information and engage in consultations in the way that the CHCs do. That is a point of which I take note, and it is among the matters that I am considering.

Mr. Paul Dean

I accept that some community health councils have been more satisfactory than others. However, will my right hon. Friend take account of the fact that, possibly suitably reformed, they could be a valuable bridge between patients and the NHS, and that there is a good case for their retention?

Mr. Jenkin

I am grateful for that expression of opinion from my hon. Friend, of which I certainly take note. Among the comments that we have received about CHCs there has been general agreement on the importance of the members appointed by the voluntary sector. It may well be that CHCs would stand to gain and that their work would be more relevant if they had among their membership a higher proportion of people from the voluntary sector.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that, as the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) said, there is a strong case for the retention of CHCs? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the view is that at least the patient has the right to go to his CHC, and that on that basis there is direct consultation? If we lose that, patients will feel that they have lost everything.

Mr. Jenkin

I take note of that expression of opinion as well. The CHCs were set up not primarily to be patients' friends, but to represent, as it were, the public collectively in relation to the health authorities whose districts they cover, and that function has grown. Many patients have difficulty in finding their way around the administrative system in the NHS, and the CHCs have been valuable in helping them to put forward their complaints.

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