New arrangements for patient and public involvement will rely on a three-way relationship between new 'local involvement networks' (LINks), the NHS and local authorities.

New arrangements for patient and public involvement will rely on a three-way relationship between new 'local involvement networks' (LINks), the NHS and local authorities.

The Department of Health today published proposals for LINks to replace patient forums. There will be one for each local authority with social service responsibilities.

The LINks will be tasked to gather, analyse and sift information from local patients before making recommendations to commissioners, providers, and local authority overview and scrutiny committees.

A Stronger Local Voice, the DoH report on the proposals, promises a model contract for LINks, and says funds will be given to local authorities to 'consult with local organisations such as voluntary and community groups or social enterprises to identify the most appropriate arrangements' for hosting them.

Extra responsibilities will be introduced for local NHS bodies and OSCs to ensure they co-operate with LINks. One of LINks' few explicit powers will be the right to refer matters to OSCs and get an 'appropriate response'. OSCs currently have the right to be consulted on major service changes.

DoH director for patients and the public Harry Cayton, who chaired the consultation on improving the patient voice, described this as a 'right of audience', but accepted that new bodies will have fewer official 'powers' than patient forums.

'They were statutory bodies and part of the problem has been that they were unable to adapt to a changing NHS,' he said.

Mr Cayton said the emphasis of the new-look patient involvement model was on transparency and flexibility. If the new system was effective, that in itself would attract patients to LINks, he said.

'We would not deny that we are trusting that local groups will learn to do this well,' he added.

The proposals suggest LINks develop close working relationships with OSCs, and envisage some LINks members acting as advisers on OSC reviews.

The commissioning framework, expected to be published today was expected to set out more explicit rules on how the NHS should carry out consultations and involve local people in decision-making, and to use their concerns as a trigger to introduce new entrants to the market.

The DoH report says commissioners will have to publish regular reports of how their plans have altered following public consultation, and explaining why they have not adopted suggestions from representative organisations.