Published: 07/11/2002, Volume II2, No. 5830 Page 22

Junior health minister David Lammy failed to keep a speaking appointment at the Association of Community Health Councils for England and Wales annual general meeting and conference in Bournemouth in July. Mr Lammy also declined to find anyone else to speak in his place.

At last month's regional transition advisory board event in Birmingham, no-one from the Department of Health, not even a junior civil servant, deemed to attend.

At least one representative was supposed to be there to answer questions, listen to comments from the 125 attendees (some of whom had travelled very long distances to be there), and report back to the DoH.

CHC members and staff have almost become used to being treated with contempt by the DoH. The same approach now seems to be taken to others with an interest in genuine patient and public involvement, including the voluntary sector and NHS people who attended yesterday's event in good faith - not to mention the honest efforts of TAB members themselves, who seem increasingly sidelined.

This is yet another example of the contemptible attitude of health secretary Alan Milburn and some in his department, towards CHC members, staff and others, since the publication of the NHS plan in July 2000.

It is clear Mr Milburn is merely paying lip service to the idea of genuine patient and public involvement in health.

He told Parliament there would be local offices for people to input their views on the NHS, to seek information and be dealt with locally. It now transpires he is planning to have just 28 'local' offices throughout England. The number of staff he proposes to employ in these offices is totally inadequate. The DoH still has no idea how much the new systems are going to cost.

What a pity ministers are not required to submit a binding business plan to the Treasury before they can go ahead with their half-baked plans.

TAB, which was set up by the DoH to involve key participants in the new system, is sidelined and often ignored.

We desperately want, and need, the new systems to work, for if they do not, the NHS will be in turmoil for many years to come.

We - those of us who are already involved in patient and public involvement and demonstrate daily our commitment to the NHS - want dialogue, not disdain.

Bill Marks City and Hackney community health council