THIS WEEK

Junior health minister Lord Hunt this week sought to reassure local government that it would have an equal role alongside the NHS in the future running of care trusts.

'I want to stress that care trusts are not a takeover of one organisation by another but a partnership of equals, ' he told peers as the Health and Social Care Bill had its second reading in the Lords.

He reiterated the government's position that a care trust would be 'based on a primary care trust or NHS trust', but confirmed that 'its governance arrangements will change to reflect the new role and ensure that local authorities are appropriately represented'.

Ministers wanted to see governance arrangements, including 'a minimum number of local authority members which reflect the wishes of local partners within a flexible national framework', Lord Hunt claimed.

Local Government Association head of health and social affairs John Ransford said Lord Hunt's statements were 'encouraging' and 'went some way to reassure the LGA'.

Health minister John Hutton wrote to the chair of the LGA's social affairs and health executive, Rita Stringfellow, twice over the weekend to make similar points, Mr Ransford said.

He stressed: 'It is important that ministers instruct their officials to get into discussions within that spirit. Some officials have said that they can't change existing PCT regulations. What Lord Hunt has said suggests they can. '

But Association of Directors of Social Services president Moira Gibb said Lord Hunt's remarks did not go far enough. 'Governance arrangements should be part of primary legislation and not simply left to regulation, ' she maintained.

The proposed abolition of community health councils and the government's failure to fund free personal as well as nursing care also attracted widespread criticism during the Lords' debate.

A series of amendments is expected during the committee stage later this month.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Lord Clement-Jones said an amendment to make personal care free would attract support from cross-benchers in the Lords. 'We hope it will have some support from Labour backbenchers, ' he added.

But CHCs were 'the main issue' on which the government would 'have to negotiate'. Peers would use their 'ability to impede the timetable' to force concessions from the government, he said.