Headlines: December 2nd, 2003

A new health watchdog, Patient and Public Involvement Forums, has started the job of monitoring and reviewing health services from the patient’s perspective. The Forums replace the Community Health Councils which for 29 years have protected the interests of health service patients. The Councils mainly operated reactively by investigating complaints. It is planned that the Forums will take a proactive approach and give the public a voice in the decisions that affect their health. The new arrangements mean that patients will now be involved in policy and implementation from the very top of the NHS through the Modernisation Boards right through to the grass roots level.The wider role of the Forums will include making unannounced visits to premises including those of GPs, dentists and pharmacists. They will be able to ask for any information relevant to their functions. Forums will be given a general power to refer matters of concern to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee of the local council.

The forums are independent of the NHS and will be powerful local levers for change. They are the last part of the set of arrangements that support and empower the public to be put in place. Patient Advice and Liaison Services are already in NHS trusts and Primary Care trusts. Independent support for people wanting to complain about health services has been available since September and since January local authorities have been using their new powers to scrutinise health services from the perspective of their local residents.

The Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health has recruited over 4000 volunteers to serve on the 572 Patient and Public Involvement Forums. It also sets and monitors standards of Forums and the Independent Complaints Advocacy Services to ensure consistency across the country. This is a key difference between the new arrangements and Community Health Councils.