A county council has launched a new service to deal with complaints about the health service.

Kent county council says Kent Health Watch is designed to help patients who want to make complaints, compliments or comments about health or social care. Staff at a council call centre will provide a signposting service, telling patients whom they should be talking to in the health service, and will also decide if services need improvement.

The service, which the local NHS has fallen into line with, was launched at Maidstone Hospital the day before the anniversary of the Healthcare Commission report into the C difficile outbreak there.

Cost to taxpayers

But councillors would not give a definitive cost for the service - other than "a penny a week per family in Kent" - or say how many callers are expected to use it. They suggested it might be used to give health information such as "reassurance about pandemic flu on Christmas Day".

Council leader Paul Carter said: "Kent Health Watch gives the 1.3 million residents of Kent a service that allows them to voice their opinions on both health and social care in the county.

"It is essential that the providers of health and social care listen and respond to the feedback - both positive and negative."

Saving lives

He also said the new system could save lives. Mr Carter spoke about the scheme at the Conservative Party conference and a national Health Watch scheme is included in the party's health policy documents.

West Kent PCT chief executive Steve Phoenix, Eastern and Coastal Kent PCT chief executive Ann Sutton and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells chief executive Glenn Douglas, welcomed the initiative at the press conference.