Published: 24/02/2005, Volume II5, No. 5944 Page 12
The effectiveness of patient forums has by general consensus been patchy. And chief executives are split on whether they have the expertise and ability to fulfil the role that the Healthcare Commission wants them to take on - helping to confirm that trusts are hitting core standards in the new ratings system.
'They are not fit for the purpose, ' said one. 'They were not set up properly and they are not resourced properly. They seem to have attracted some people who are not up to it.
'I am a great believer in providers getting direct feedback from patients and service users so they can tell it like it is. The slight danger in organisations that come in as a third party, like patient forums, is that they dilute the message.' An acute trust chief executive said their patient forum had only three members. 'They cannot cope with the workload they are being given so they will struggle to put any time into this. They are not representative of the people - three people cannot possibly be representative of the population.
'If they are going to be asked about our relationship with them during the previous year, I've got no problem with that. If they are going to be asked about our measurements that might be different.' The Healthcare Commission is working with the Department of Health to put together a new centre of excellence which will eventually replace the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health when it is abolished - in August 2006 at the earliest.
For the chair of one local authority health overview and scrutiny committee the new centre cannot come soon enough. 'There is a real anger and feeling of frustration [among forums], ' she said.
'Somebody has got to do something about this or the system is going to collapse.' The experience of other chief executives is far more positive, with one even giving his forum chair official observer status on the trust board. 'This is a man of huge integrity. He understands the rules; There is no suggestion of breaches of confidence coming from him.' Another added: 'We welcome them being involved with the Healthcare Commission. We think that will enhance the process'.
See Interview, pages 18-19.