Headlines: July 14th, 2006

Patients are to be give more power to influence the way their local health services are organised and run. New plans from the Department of health will mean Primary Care Trusts will be required formally to respond to petitions from the public if more than one person in a hundred in the community is unhappy with a particular health service.The Health Secretary, Patricia Hewiit, has also announced new arrangements for organised patient involvement. The changes are designed to build on existing patient forums by setting up new Local Involvement Networks, to be called LINks, which will have more clout to influence services in hospitals and in the community. The proposal is central to new guidance being issued to the NHS on commissioning services.

The announcement also includes plans to allow private firms to tender for supplying support services to help PCTs in their commissioning. A tender advertisement is being produced with the aim of creating a national framework contract that Trusts can use. Last month a similar advertiserment was withdrawn from the official journal of the European Journal after reports that it implied private companies could control Primary Care Trusts.

The guidance, “Health Reform in England: Update and Commissioning Framework”, details five objectives towards which Trusts will have to work with local clinicians. They are improving health and well-being and reducing health inequalities, securing access to a comprehensive range of services, improving the quality and efficiency of services, increasing patient choice and ensuring greater responsiveness to needs and achieving best value. In delivering on each of these PCTs it will be required to involve patients in the organisation of services. They will have to publish documents covering the assessment of local needs, the quality of services, patient satisfaction levels and future investment plans.

Patricia Hewitt said she was determined to give patients and the public a bigger say in their local health services. “People increasingly want to become active partners in their own health care and we need to create a system where people are no longer passive recipients of NHS and social care services but are able to shape them to suit their needs,” she said.