HC Deb 20 January 2004 vol 416 cc1201-3
4. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab)

If she will make a statement on progress in implementing the new arrangements for patient and public involvement in the NHS. [148787]

8. Linda Perham (Ilford, North) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on the new arrangements for patient and public involvement in the health service. [148791]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton)

Ninety-nine per cent. of places on patients forums have been filled. Every local authority has a health scrutiny committee, every trust has a patient advice and liaison service, there is independent support for complainants and thousands of people have applied to become members of the first wave of foundation trusts. Those changes give real control and influence to NHS patients.

Mr. Kidney

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will she accept my tribute to the Mid Staffordshire community health council, which has of course been compulsorily retired? It was always active and effective. May I tell her about my work to learn the new arrangements for patient and public involvement in Stafford, which has included meeting the senior managers of all the trusts? I have met Vanessa Day, the primary care trust patient advice and liaison service officer. I officially opened the PALS office at the hospital at Stafford, where I met Mandy Gibbs and Samantha Edmonton. I have also spoken to the forums co-ordinator Peter Goodman—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask the Minister a question, not tell us what he has been doing. I know that he is a hard-working Member of Parliament, but it is not the purpose of a supplementary question to tell the House that.

Mr. Kidney

Does my hon. Friend agree with my conclusion that the new system is decidedly more comprehensive, modern and responsive than what went before?

Ms Winterton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for playing such an active role in encouraging patient and public involvement in the NHS. He may recall that I wrote to all hon. Members on 1 December, informing them of the new arrangements and encouraging them to play exactly the part that he has played. I, too, pay tribute to the work of members of the CHCs and am glad that about 25 per cent. of former CHC members are now on patients forums. We have to build on the best practice that they showed us previously.

Linda Perham

Is my hon. Friend aware that the all-party group on community health councils hopes to re-form tomorrow as the all-party group on patient and public involvement in health, to work with the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health to support the new arrangements to which she and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) referred and to ensure that the voices of NHS users are heard in the provision of services, to which the Government have committed record levels of investment? Would my hon. Friend like to come to a future meeting of the group?

Ms Winterton

I thank my hon. Friend for that invitation and I should be delighted to meet the group. I know that my hon. Friend has always played an active part in these matters; I believe that she herself was a member of a CHC before 1997. As I said, it is important that we in Parliament not only do everything that we can to encourage people to get involved in determining the provision of local health services but also that we thank them for the time that they give voluntarily. I should be delighted to accept my hon. Friend's invitation.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP)

I welcome the voluntary help that is being given, but does the Minister agree that in appointing non-executive directors we must ensure that they are equipped to deal with the issues that trusts require, and that they have business and other skills? The Minister mentioned complaints procedures. Is there not a danger that many people are complaining not because they want to but because when public representatives raise issues with trust boards and hospital authorities, they are told that the questions cannot be answered unless people make an actual complaint? Surely, that does not help the health of the nation.

Ms Winterton

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that an independent body undertakes appointments.

On complaints in general, through the independent complaints advocacy services and the patient advice and liaison services, we have set up a system to provide independent support for complainants. In addition, we are looking at the whole system for redress in the NHS, in the recently published document "Making Amends".

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

Without disclosing to the hon. Lady the contents of my diary, may I ask her to tell the House what the new arrangements are for mentally ill patients and the huge increase in the resources of the medical profession that they are taking up? Will the new arrangements also take into account the implications of the working time directive for doctors and nurses with mental health qualifications, who are spending huge amounts of time and resources? Will we need more doctors as a result of the directive?

Ms Winterton

Obviously, challenges lie ahead in that direction, and the Department as a whole is considering the issue. It will be for individual patients forums to look into the arrangements made locally, in conjunction with both acute and primary care trusts.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab)

Anyone involved in public consultation on health knows that when an issue is big enough we can easily fill a room, but that it can be dispiriting to turn up to a meeting in a cold room on a Thursday night to find that only three people have attended. I am sure that it is not my hon. Friend's intention that the new public involvement in health excludes public consultation, especially on major issues such as the reconfiguration of hospital services. I, too, want to see greater ongoing public involvement in the health service, but can she reassure me that the new arrangements will not reduce public consultation when a matter concerns the whole community?

Ms Winterton

I agree with my hon. Friend. There are two ways of achieving that under the new system. First, the patients forums can set up separate sub-committees to consider particular issues of local involvement—[Interruption.] The Opposition sneer, but it is important that people get involved. We know that there is interest and that, for example, more than 1,000 extra people applied for places on patients forums. It is important that Members of the House do all that we can to encourage that. Secondly, overview and scrutiny committees will also have a consultative role, which they did not have before, particularly to consider the reconfiguration of services. Put together, that will increase consultation and encourage the type of involvement that we want.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC)

The Minister will know that community health councils in Wales have been retained and, indeed, strengthened. What arrangements are in place to ensure that the NHS in England can learn about the rather more progressive practice in my country?

Ms Winterton

I am sure that the commission will take every opportunity to learn any relevant lesson from the Welsh situation. As I have said, we want to build on the best that community health councils provided. However, it is true that the service was patchy in some areas. We have tried to have a system that has national standards, so that we know that the same service will be available everywhere not only to consult patients, but to have a robust complaints procedure.