Headlines: February 1st, 2001

Abolition of community health councils has raised widespread concern amongst those who believe the NHS needs greater scrutiny. The King’s Fund has set out an agenda to secure public trust and ensure that the health service is responsive to needs. A top priority is for the voice of patients to be heard at every level of planning. This includes being heard in GP
surgeries to the corridors of Whitehall. Citizens also need to know what to expect from the NHS, how well it is working, and what to do if things go wrong. They should be able to see that the NHS is being properly scrutinised, locally and nationally.

In responding to pleas for a more responsive health service, government amendments to the health and social care bill, now in its committee stage, provide for county councils to pass on health service scrutiny responsibilities to politicians in lower-tier authorities. The legislation carries forward proposals in the NHS plan to greatly strengthen local government’s role in examining the health service. The bill originally made no mention of the role of district councils in the scrutiny process. The amendments will allow districts to take on delegated scrutiny powers from county councils, form joint committees with them or have district councillors co-opted onto a county scrutiny panel.