The government has come under fire over lengthy delays and failures to properly involve patient groups in the creation of a new NHS Charter .

A new charter - one of Labours election pledges - has yet to see the light of day, although work started in October 1997.

A report by TV executive Greg Dyke came out in December 1998. But patients and consumer bodies on the projects advisory group claimed that they had no input between its final meeting in July that year and the reports publication.

The government promised a response, but has yet to issue one.

Junior health minister Gisela Stuart told HSJ recently: I can understand why people think it has fallen off the agenda, but it has most definitely not.

The governments focus on balancing patients rights with responsibilities was rejected by Mr Dyke, who suggested numbers of patients failing to attend appointments would be best tackled by making services more patient-centred.

Ms Stuart agreed that patients had a right to certain standards of care wherever they are. But she restressed the governments original emphasis on patients duties to keep their side of the bargain.

There are responsibilities for patients, such as keeping appointments - how can we facilitate that?

We have to make sure that people take the time to cancel if they cant make an appointment, she said. Ms Stuart blamed delays on the governments efforts to involve the key players in the new charter ahead of formal consultation. She said one of my first meetings of the new year would be about the charter .

But Judy Wilson, director of the Long-Term Medical Conditions Alliance, said it had not had any direct input into the charter since the final meeting of the advisory group in July 1998.

She said talks with the government on long-term conditions were very much proactive from our point of view.

At the moment there is no minister with responsibility for long-term medical conditions. That is what we are continuing to press for.

Other patients groups claimed even less input into the debate, with Carers National Association chair Francine Bates describing the delays as a bit of a mystery and very worrying.

A spokesperson for the Patients Association said: We have no idea where the Patients Charter has got to and haven't heard any speculation about it.

Other HSJ sources suggested final drafts were now in the last stages of being written, with a consultation document likely to emerge in the next month or so.