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New patient forums launch recruitment drive

Published on 08/01/04 at 01:18pm

New bodies intended to give patients and the public a greater say in their local health service have been launched in England, but need to recruit thousands more volunteers to provide coverage across the country.

The existing independent Community Health Councils (CHCs) were abolished on 1 December and replaced with 574 Patient and Public Involvement Forums, covering every NHS trust and PCT.

Each forum will consist of 15 to 20 local people whose task will be to watch over the quality of health provision in their trust, establish relationships within the service, and monitor the views of patients, carers and the public especially groups who have previously been under-represented in order to bring about improvements both locally and nationally.

Sharon Grant, Chair of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement (CPPI), the body which will oversee the operation of the system nationally welcomed the launch.

"The arrival of the forums presents a unique opportunity to put the public at the centre of health, and to reform the whole culture of healthcare.

"Forum members will independently watch over the quality of local healthcare and will be able to influence local and national decision-making as part of a growing network of public involvement."

The forums will be supported by nine regional resource centres and Local Network Providers (LNPs). The Commission has contracted services from not-for-profit organisations chosen for their understanding of local needs, including carer support organisations, charities for older people and disability-related organisations.

But concerns remain about how well placed the forums are to take over from the CHCs, with the Commission admitting that between 10,000-15,000 people are needed to make the system fully operational across the country. A national campaign was launched last August to recruit over 4,500 volunteers for the launch with the CPPI claiming to have just fallen short of that target in December.

A report by the Commons Health Committee last year was damning about the government introduction of the new system, and called for the launch to be delayed until July 2004 to give forums greater time to prepare, but was ignored.

The committee raised a number of other concerns, including an apparent lack of co-ordination between the forums and plans to have local people elected to foundation trust boards.

The committee commented: "We are left with the impression that some policy within the Department of Health is formulated in total isolation from other policy, leading to the ridiculous situation the NHS and its patients are now faced with introduction of two parallel but entirely different systems of patient and public involvement within the NHS within one year.

The government responded by saying that its policy remained "absolutely consistent" and that the two systems reflected the fact that public and patient involvement did not require a "one size fits all" solution.

The CPPI advertising campaign "Making Time For Health" to recruit volunteers will run throughout 2004 using posters and leaflets in public places and via its website



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