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Community Health Councils

Volume 173: debated on Tuesday 5 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the future of community health councils.

Has the Minister read the leaked letter—published in the National Union of Public Employees journal recently—from the Secretary of State for Social Security, which showed that the answer given to the House is not as accurate as suggested? The letter states that it is the Government's intention to do away with the right of community health councils to complain about such things as hospitals opting out. If that is the case, will the Minister admit it, and if it is not, will he officially deny it? Consumers of health care are getting sick of their democratic rights being taken away.

I am afraid that I am not an avid reader of the NUPE journal, but I can confirm that no change is envisaged for the role of the community health council when a district health authority proposes the closure of a hospital.

I welcome the reassurance that my hen. Friend has given, but will he reflect on the fact that while community health councils can be a useful sound-board for local opinion on the health services that are provided, it is the membership of the health authority that has executive control over local allocation of resources? A key issue in future is to try to ensure that the range of authority members and their responsiveness to local opinion is such that they can bring influence to bear and reflect public opinion in the provision of health services.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the changes that will be introduced next April are intended to emphasise the executive nature of health authorities. That leaves an important role for the community health councils. In many ways it will be an enhanced role after April. It creates the opportunity for them to become more concerned with the development of the service in the area for which they are responsible.

Will the Minister publish for the relevant community health council any draft business plan that has been submitted to his Department or any draft application for self-governing trust status? Will he also publish for the relevant community health council a copy of his Department's response to any such draft papers, to ensure that the council is effectively able to represent local opinion when a hospital in its area is deciding whether to opt out?

I shall not undertake to publish draft business plans, but I give the undertaking, which my right hon. and learned Friend has given many times, that the community health councils will be fully consulted on any proposal to establish a self-governing trust.

Will community health councils be able to do much that Members of Parliament who are active in their constituencies cannot do? Given that circumstance, does my hon. Friend think that if the councils did not exist at this time tomorrow, they would be missed, or that they are much loved?

My hon. Friend is an active Member of Parliament. If everyone was as active as him, he might have a point. Community health councils have a significant part to play in the future of the Health Service, by representing proper concerns when major changes are envisaged and as a consultee in the future development of the Health Service. I hope that in future the councils, in the same way as other bodies are concerned with health issues, will be more interested in output by the Health Service than in input.