A recent note from Ruth Marsden of the National Association of LINks Members told us that Richard Taylor, Independent MP for Wyre Forest said, in response to an article in the Health Service Journal by Joan Saddler:
“I found it staggering that there was no mention of local involvement networks in Joan Saddler’s article (opinion, page 15, 23 July, HSJ). LINks are the government’s replacement for the abolished patient and public involvement in health forums and are intended to make meaningful interchange take place between patients and the public and commissioners and providers of health services. For the Director of Patient and Public Affairs to not even acknowledge these vital bodies of willing volunteers in an article on seeking out and acting on patient feedback is incomprehensible. It implies the Department of health has no interest in the success or failure of these bodies, which is the impression of some LINks members.”
In contrast, while exploring alternative policies around Quality Accounts I found this in the Conservative Office “Renewal Plan for a better NHS.” I can’t find a date for the publication of this document. It has an attributed quote for 2008 although the text quoted below talks in the present tense of LINks events dating back at least two years. Here it is, dating anomalies aside and with a health warning ‘beware of political warm, slippery words.’
“Labour have failed to provide a voice for patients:
- Community Health Councils (CHCs) - which had originally been established in 1974 - were abolished on 1 December 2003, after almost 30 years' existence. The expertise they built up in helping patients was simply lost.
- The longevity of CHCs contrasts with the brevity of their successor bodies: Patients' Forums. Patients' Forums were established in December 2003 and are set to be abolished by the end of this year.27
- Labour are currently establishing Local Involvement Networks (LINKs) in the place of Patients' Forums.
In keeping with our commitment to avoid organisational upheaval, we will not abolish LINKs. We will use LINKs, when established, as the foundation of our policies for patient and public involvement in health at a local level. However, we are of the view that LINKs - as currently planned - are too weak and will have too few powers to command the confidence of patients and members of the public. Therefore, we believe that:
- LINKs should be made independent of local authorities. Our plans to enhance the accountability of NHS services to local authorities are outlined below.
- LINKs should be given additional powers of inspection, and the ability to act as advocates for patients who complain about NHS services.
We will establish a national consumer voice for patients:
HealthWatch. HealthWatch will provide support to patients at a national level and leadership to LINKs at a local level. It will also incorporate the functions of the Independent Complaints Advisory Body.
HealthWatch will have a clear statutory right to be consulted:
- Over guidelines issued nationally concerning the care NHS patients should receive ('commissioning guidelines').
- Over decisions which affect how NHS care is provided in an area. It will also be able to make representations to the NHS Board in relation to the planning of NHS services, such as where an Accident and Emergency Department closure is proposed.”