Great. From our public consultation, we know that many people want to have a greater say over their health and social care services. The establishment of local involvement networks—LINKs—will give people far more opportunities to have a stronger voice over their local services.
I thank the Minister for that answer, and the enthusiasm with which she gave it, but she will have been told, as I have, that one of the tools that members of patient and public involvement forums value most is the ability to inspect hospitals or other health care facilities, including, where they think it necessary, without notice. Given that those powers and that ability will be circumscribed for local involvement networks, and in the case of inspections without notice, removed altogether, does she not think that it is inevitable that the public will have less confidence in LINKs to protect their interests than they did in PPI forums?
No, I do not think that they will, because I think that LINKs will actually be very powerful bodies in terms of their ability to get responses from primary care trusts when they raise particular issues, and their ability to look at social care institutions. We wanted to avoid confusion between the inspection roles of the statutory regulators and the powers of LINKs to go into trusts to view the services. That is why we have made a change, to enable them to do that. However, it is important to recognise that when LINKs go into, for example, day care centres under social services, notice needs to be given to people who go to such centres for, in a sense, respite care. We want to make sure that that work does not disturb either staff or patients. However, LINKs will be able to make reports after they have entered premises and to demand replies from PCTs and others.
In my area we have a group of very dedicated people who were involved in community health councils, who then became involved in the various patient and public involvement organisations and who want to be involved in the LINKs. However, they are conscious that we are not reaching out to a wider electorate of people who want to get involved in such work. How can we spread the word and get new people involved in these organisations?
That is the challenge. We know from consultation that people want to have a greater say. Through some of the draft guidance that we have issued we have looked at how to involve more people. We also have some early adopter sites, which are considering in particular how to widen the range of people who are involved to include voluntary sector and other patient groups.