HC Deb 09 January 2001 vol 360 cc859-61
2. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

What progress has been made in involving patients in primary care groups. [142897]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham)

Excellent progress in involving patients has been made by primary care groups and primary care trusts. Those new organisations reflect and represent the interests of the community that they serve, partly through the lay membership, but largely by working together to engage and involve local people.

Helen Jackson

Sheffield has a good community health council that has stimulated an excellent community health forum in my constituency, but there is concern that, in the new system, the patients and public who participate in it will not have the same opportunities to get their voices heard. During the transition from community health councils to the new patients forums, how will my hon. Friend ensure that there will be no break in continuity when good initiatives, such as the one that I have mentioned, are in place?

Mr. Denham

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The establishment of primary care groups has, so far as we can tell, led to an explosion in the number of patients forums throughout the country. Some are supported by CHCs and others are directly supported by the primary care group. The primary care group in my hon. Friend's constituency is one of several that want to become primary care trusts from April this year, and will therefore benefit from the proposals in the Health and Social Care Bill for every trust to have a statutory independent patients forum, which will not be appointed by Ministers, to represent patients' interests.

During the transition to the new arrangement, it will be important to ensure that valuable local forums are properly supported, and we will look to the health authority to do that. I understand that the primary care group wants Stocksbridge community health forum to continue. It is at an early stage of planning next year's budget and has not been able to make firm commitments, but it recognises the forum's value.

Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne)

Does the Minister agree that the Government are introducing new mechanisms for public involvement in the national health service because of their policy unnecessarily to abolish community health councils? If the councils are unsuited to represent patients' needs, will he tell the House why the National Assembly for Wales will not be abolishing them?

Mr. Denham

Many CHCs have done a good job, but that has largely been owing to the qualities of the individuals involved as officers and lay members rather than to their legal structure and powers. We want a step change and improvement in patient influence in the NHS. That is why the Health and Social Care Bill will, for the first time, put a statutory duty on every NHS organisation to involve and consult patients. It will establish for every trust an independent patients forum with the power to oversee the advocacy and liaison service in each trust. We shall ensure that there is an effective complaints system for individual patients and an independent source of advice and support for patients who want to take their complaint through that system. We shall give democratic local government the role that it should have had of overseeing the local health service. All those measures give patients a greater say in the future of the NHS. The functions carried out by CHCs will be performed by other bodies and new functions added. That is a step forward.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

I am pleased to hear about that progress, but can my hon. Friend assure me that the new system will not replicate the problems of health authorities and trusts in which the poorest and most health-deprived areas are consistently under-represented in the forums, as they are in my area? Will he ensure that people with the greatest health needs get their proper say?

Mr. Denham

We hope to achieve that through a number of mechanisms. First, an independent appointments commission will appoint members of the patients forums, and we will look to those bodies to ensure that they are properly representative of the communities that they serve. Secondly, we propose—I am sure that we shall discuss this in detail in Standing Committee—to find arrangements to draw on a representative cross-section of people who have recently used the NHS to be members of the patients forums. Both those methods will allow us to achieve the aim that my hon. Friend sets out.