Published: 30/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5807 Page 8

Community health councils were feeling 'pretty chuffed' at 'dramatic concessions' by the government at the end of a two-year wrangle over patient and public involvement this week. But they urged ministers to move fast to safeguard staff skills and experience.

The government was forced to offer a compromise to deflect backbench Labour MPs' anger during last week's Commons debate on the NHS Reform Bill.

The deal arose from last-minute talks between Labour Commons health committee chair David Hinchliffe and junior health minister Hazel Blears.

It brought a government amendment to give extra powers to primary care trust patients' forums - similar to patients' councils proposed by Mr Hinchliffe - and added to the bill by members of the House of Lords in the face of opposition from the government.

PCT forums will now bring together members of local trustbased forums, be responsible for providing independent advocacy, represent the public's views on health matters and make their concerns public.

Association of CHCs for England and Wales director Peter Walsh said: 'I think we feel pretty chuffed.

The government has made some very, very dramatic concessions in our direction.'The association was analysing the proposals against its criteria of 'independence, robust powers, local accountability and resources', he said. 'But we think It is got potential.' The association wanted everyone, particularly the Department of Health, to look at the skills and expertise of CHC staff and members as soon as possible. The government had moved in a way that made it more logical and easier for CHC staff to transfer into the new structures.

Nik Barstow, chief officer at Central Manchester CHC and chair of Unison's national CHC forum, said the PCT forums would fit with the work CHC staff did now 'and they should hold core posts in the new system'.

Ms Blears told MPs the deal, near 'the end of a rather tortuous journey', was 'as good as it gets'.