In Lords Question Time today I asked a supplementary which, although it rather strayed from the original question, gave me the opportunity to try and get some more flesh on the bones of the Coalition’s intentions on patient and service user representation in the NHS.

On 3rd June, in the Queen’s Speech debate, Earl Howe, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health, said this on patient representation:

“The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about the patient voice. We are going to give the public a strong and independent voice though Health Watch, which will be a statutory body with the power to investigate and support complaints. I hope that this will be music to the ears of my noble friend Lady Knight. Locally, we will strengthen the patient voice by having directly elected members of the public on the boards of PCTs. That will ensure that boards are balanced between locally accountable individuals and technical expertise.”

Today, there was a question

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government which health agencies and arm’s-length bodies will be affected by cuts in government spending.”

My supplementary (which as I acknowledge was a fair way away from the original focus of the question – a traditional House of Lords Question Time tactic) and the answer it elicited were as follows:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Earl has frequently argued in this House in favour of there being arm’s-length bodies to protect the patient’s interest in the NHS. Will extra resources be found to enable this aspiration of his—and I am sure, of the coalition’s—to be fully funded?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the budgetary implications of our plans are being worked through at the moment but we are clear that we need to have a more powerful patient voice within the system than at present. I believe that that goes hand-in-hand with our agenda for patient choice, greater quality standards and more information being made available to patients to enable them to make choices.”

I am not sure that much new light was shed on whether a properly independent patient voice will be created to take on the mantle of Community Health Councils and Patient Forums – successively abolished by the last Government.  We will no doubt have to await a definitive statement of Government policy ….

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