The National Patient Safety Agency more than halved its spending on patient and public involvement over the last four years.

Data obtained by the patient safety charity Action Against Medical Accidents and shared exclusively with HSJ shows that NPSA spending on patient involvement rose steadily in the agency’s first years of existence, peaking at £270,117 in 2006-07.

[The NPSA’s] strength has been its specific focus on patient safety and nothing else. It would be disastrous if the priority given to patient safety itself let alone patient involvement was watered down

But after that it declined rapidly. By 2009-10 it was £116,866 - less than half its 2006-07 level.

Action Against Medical Accidents chief executive Peter Walsh complained patient and public involvement in the NPSA had been “decimated”.

He told HSJ: “The Department of Health has said that patients have a vital role to play in patient safety. One of the NPSA’s strengths at the start was that it acknowledged this and it was built into every aspect of their work.

“[But] it has been our perception for some time that patient involvement was being given less priority at the NPSA. These figures confirm our worst fears.”

The spending figures were shared with HSJ just days before the Department of Health announced that the agency was one of a number of arm’s length bodies that would be abolished following its review.

The NPSA will cease to exist from April 2012 when its functions will be transferred to the NHS commissioning board and elsewhere.

When it was established in 2001 the Department of Health said the NPSA would create a “clear role” for patients within the agency so they could highlight the consequences of patient safety incidents that might otherwise be missed.

Although his charity has been critical of the NPSA’s cuts in patient engagement Mr Walsh said he was concerned patient safety would be neglected once the agency was abolished.

He said: “[The NPSA’s] strength has been its specific focus on patient safety and nothing else. It would be disastrous if the priority given to patient safety itself let alone patient involvement was watered down.”

HSJ’s Patient Safety Challenge 2010 is on 23 September, www.patientsafetychallenge.com