Creating A Stronger Local Voice

The Government received a large response to its plans to ensure more people become involved in local decision making, Health Minister Rosie Winterton has announced. Almost 500 people responded to the Department of Health’s A Stronger Local Voice consultation – which advocated the introduction of a more joined-up, flexible and effective system, with Local Involvement Networks (LINks) being established to replace and build on the work of patient forums.

The review of patient and public involvement formed part of an unprecedented public consultation that took place as part of the White Paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say. This gave people a real opportunity to share their views about health and social care services.

Following on from this, A Stronger Local Voice was a chance to illustrate the benefits of Local Involvement Networks, and to hear the concerns and feedback of stakeholders and the public.

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said: “We had a very impressive number of responses to the consultation which demonstrates the strength of interest in this area. This type of feedback is vital to creating the highest quality service, and ensuring that as many people as possible are involved in their local health provision.

“If we are to create a truly user-led service, centred around the needs of both individuals and communities, it is essential that we create a stronger voice for patients, service users and citizens at all levels of the health and social care system. Local Involvement Networks will have the flexibility and independence to offer new, creative ways for people to get involved.”

LINks will differ from patient forums in a number of ways – they will cover a geographical area rather than relating to a specific organisation, they will cover both health and social care, they will involve a far greater number of people and will work closer with the voluntary sector.

As a result of feedback, and following advice from current patient forum members, LINks will also be given the power to inspect premises.

Ms Winterton added: “One issue of particular concern has been whether LINks should have rights to access NHS premises. We have given LINks this power to ensure they could effectively scrutinize services and properly promote people’s views.”

It is proposed that each LINk will have a team of specialists who will undertake the necessary training and checks to allow them to carry out inspections of premises.

Harry Cayton, the Department of Health’s National Director for Patients and the Public, said: “We recognise the huge amount of time, skill and energy that people involved in patient forums, patient participation groups and other networks, have put into influencing and improving their local services.

“Now we want to go further for all patients, and to reach out to those people whose needs are the greatest, to people who do not normally get involved and to those who find it hard to give their views.”