Patient Voice Proposals Will Fail Without Resources, Says BMA

Government proposals to give patients and the public in England more say in the NHS are likely to fail because of insufficient resources, the BMA has said.

In its response to a Health Select Committee inquiry on public and patient involvement, the association’s Patient Liaison Group criticises government plans to replace current Patient Forums, and the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health (CPPIH), with new Local Involvement Networks (LINks) without addressing resourcing issues.

Under the proposals, currently going through Parliament, there would be fewer LINks – one per local authority – than there are currently Patient Forums. Their running would be left to local arrangements, with no national guidelines on funding, or on who could be a member.

The BMA believes this could result in variations in quality between LINks, and the possibility of some of them being dominated by special interest groups.

The BMA response says that the Bill to create LINks fails to address in any detail their need for resources. It is understood that between £100,000 and £150,000 per annum could be allocated to each LINk. “This is not much if translated into salaries for a minimum number of staff, expenses for members, office accommodation and running expenses, let alone money for undertaking surveys of public opinion,” the response says.

The parent body for Patient Forums – the CPPIH – would also be scrapped. The BMA is concerned that, under the proposals, there would be no overarching national body to facilitate the sharing of information between LINks.

Juliet Dunmur, deputy chair of the BMA Patient Liaison Group, says: “Many people would like a say in how their health services are run, but have never been given the opportunity. Getting the public involved will not happen through good intentions – it requires commitment and resources. If LINks are to have any real influence they will need much more support than their predecessors ever received.

“We support the government’s intention to strengthen the involvement of the public and patients in the planning and delivery of their local health and social services. However, we have concerns about the new structures proposed in this Bill.”

The BMA response expresses concern about the fact that the government apparently does not intend to formally connect LINKS with local NHS complaint systems, and says that foundation trusts appear to be failing in terms of public and patient involvement.