HL Deb 05 July 2004 vol 663 cc515-7

3.12 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, as reported, they propose to abolish the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My Lords, the Secretary of State for Health's Statement of 20 May 2004 made it clear that one of the parameters for the review of Department of Health arm's-length bodies was a 50 per cent reduction in the number of those bodies. A report on the review will be published later this month, which may affect the position of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health. However, the Government are committed to the long-term future of patients' forums.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he recall that on 18 May, less than seven weeks ago, he said, My Lords, we are satisfied generally with the progress made"? In reply to a supplementary question that I asked—it was not my Question—he explained at col. 641 that the commission was responsible for putting in place the system. He went on to say, We need to give the system time to run at local level to ensure that it is the success that we all want".—[Official Report, 18/5/04; cols. 640–41.]

How can he account for the great change of heart in such a short time when he appeared to be so satisfied? It is now said that in spite of the spend of £23 million and the 150 staff employed by the commission it may be abolished.

Lord Warner

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Baroness will have to wait patiently until later in July to see the way in which we immaculately reconcile the views I expressed earlier with the Government's future policy.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Government's record on patient and public involvement and the encouragement thereof is second to none; and that proof is given by the establishment of a senior post within the Department of Health to ensure that the voice of the patient is strong throughout policy development?

Lord Warner

My Lords, my noble friend is right. Patients' forums are the cornerstone of the arrangements we have put in place to create opportunities for patients and the public to influence health services. We are completely committed to those forums and ensuring that we capitalise on the momentum that they have begun to generate in influencing the delivery of health services locally.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, while the Minister pronounced the Government generally satisfied on the development of forums, is he aware that the chair of the London Ambulance Service forum said recently that forums have virtually no capacity to scrutinise the NHS because they have no resources, no facilities and no infrastructure? In view of that, can he defend the increased amount of money spent on the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health compared to the one that was effectively run by community health councils?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the noble Baroness will have to await the review's report on arm's-length bodies later in the month. We know that some people have expressed concerns about particular forums.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, will the Government tell the House what is the current take-up of places on patients' forums?

Lord Warner

My Lords, about 5,000 people have been appointed to patients' forums.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: T

Lord Warner

My Lords, as I understand it, all forums have met their minimum legislative requirements in terms of members, which from memory is seven, but I shall check that figure and write to the noble Baroness.

Earl Howe

My Lords, whatever the Government's decision on the commission's future, will the Minister confirm that its main functions of supplying staff to patients' forums and performance managing them to national quality standards are of central importance if there is to be proper scrutiny of the health service by patients?

Lord Warner

My Lords, we certainly accept that the commission's main functions are to support, fund and advise patients' forums and it is critical to their success that those functions continue to be discharged properly in the future.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the work currently being carried out is as good as when the community health councils were running things?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the noble Baroness is ingenious at trying to get more out of me than I am prepared to say. She will have to wait patiently until later this month.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, if the Government are to close those helpful forums for patients to put their point of view into the machine, what will take their place?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the noble Baroness must have misheard me. I said that the Government were committed to patients' forums continuing into the future. We were discussing in the Question the position of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health.