In the latest move to shake up the NHS by the Government, the South East Staffordshire Community Health Council now faces its abolition. Michael Fabricant has pledged to fight against the odds to keep it in place. CHCs are independent of the NHS and were set up to represent the interests of patients and their relatives particularly if they have had a bad experience at the hands of NHS hospitals. The Government has announced it will replace CHCs with a "Patient Advocacy and Liaison Service" (PALS) in each NHS Trust.
But as Tony Hill, Chairman of the South East Staffordshire CHC based in Lichfield, has said "It is very important for local NHS management to understand the issues concerning patients and their relatives especially if they have had a bad experience or had tried unsuccessfully to raise issues direct with service providers. The fact that CHCs are separate from NHS providers is crucial to patients’ acceptance of the CHC’s ability to make cases and represent their interests to NHS providers. The proposals in the NHS plan will not do this. PALS will inevitably be seen as part of the Trusts they are in".
Michael Fabricant says: "From time to time, constituents have come to me with problems they have suffered at the hands of the NHS in Lichfield and beyond. The Community Health Councils are an independent body, set up by Parliament to represent the interests of patients and if necessary to fight their corner against the huge organisation that is the NHS. I believe the Government is wrong in abolishing Community Health Councils. They are removing this independent voice for patients. And all this comes on top of the threat to services at Lichfield’s Victoria Hospital."
Meanwhile, Dr Liam Fox MP (a General Practitioner and the Conservative shadow Health spokesman) says "The Government’s plan to abolish CHCs was made without prior consultation and with little, if any, justification. The Conservative Party has pledged to fight for the independent, local voice of patients championed by CHCs. If we get to the General Election before CHCs are abolished, the Conservative Party will retain the current structure. If Labour have already abolished CHCs, we will reinstate a means by which patients can have a truly independent voice, beyond the control of the NHS bureaucracy and Whitehall politicians."
An Early Day Motion has been tabled in Parliament giving effect to these ideas. It says: "That this House notes that the National Health Service plan proposes the abolition of the Community Health Councils and the redistribution of their functions between a Patient Advocacy and Liaison Service, Patients’ Forums, Advisory Citizens Panels, Local Council All Party Scrutiny Committees and the Commission for Health Improvement; deplores the lack of prior consultation on the proposed abolition; rejects the Government’s proposed alternatives as wholly inadequate and calls on the Government to abandon its plans to abolish Community Health Councils and to focus instead on promoting an open debate on reform of CHC’s to ensure that they provide a genuinely independent and effective voice for patients in the NHS". The Motion is supported by Michael Fabricant.
"The Prime Minister, in the House of Commons, said the issue was the subject of a consultation, yet the decision to abolish CHC’s has already clearly been taken. Tony Blair’s idea of a consultation seems to be limited to asking the condemned man his method of execution. This is a challenge to our own willingness to confront the bureaucrats and politicians and to put the interests of patients first." adds Michael Fabricant.