I read with interest Shirley McIver and Philip Meredith's article on the white paper ('There for the asking', pages 26-27, 19 February) as it raised the issue of how difficult it is to get meaningful data from the general public.

This has actually been the job of community health councils for 24 years.

While CHCs have generally welcomed The New NHS, we have all been disappointed at the way we have been largely ignored. The introduction of an annual national patient survey is one good example. Ms McIver and Mr Meredith suggest that a more innovative approach to the annual national patient survey could be to develop disease-specific questionnaires. This 'innovation' has been used by CHCs for some time to canvass patients' views on specific service areas. In my own CHC we have surveyed users of cardiac, EMI and day surgery services within the past 18 months, as well as completing surveys on discharge arrangements, patient transport services and the local health authority's purchasing intentions. Many other CHCs have carried out similar work, which, if nationally co-ordinated, would provide a comprehensive picture of patient experience across the country - for considerably less than the pounds200,000 estimated by Ms McIver and Mr Meredith.

It is strange that a white paper which claims to have rebuilding public confidence as one of its six key principles fails to give any meaningful steer to the very organisations funded to provide public input to local health planning. Strange, too, that as more and more power is devolved to primary care, there are apparently no plans to extend the remit of CHCs to cover it. Instead we are told to make ourselves indispensable and to carve out our own role. I don't notice any other statutory bodies being given this message.

Has the government simply overlooked the contribution CHCs can make to The New NHS or, despite the white paper rhetoric, is it not really committed to public participation? I suspect the government has caught that disease which the NHS seems unable (or unwilling) to cure - constantly re-inventing the wheel and paying through the nose to do it. I look forward to being proved wrong.

Victoria West,

Chief officer,

Mid Downs CHC.