Patients need a national advocacy service to extend the benefits of choice to poor or excluded people, a minister has claimed.

Patients need a national advocacy service to extend the benefits of choice to poor or excluded people, a minister has claimed.

Care services minister Ivan Lewis suggested the service could be set up on the model of the Citizens Advice Bureau.

'Service users need advocates and brokers and the role that the third sector has played is important,' he told a Labour fringe meeting.

'One of the criticisms of choice has been that it is for the middle classes.

'If we are going to ensure that isn't the case, we need a national advocacy service based on the CAB model, so that there are local arms working to support people in making choices and decisions about public services.'

He said the government stood fully behind the voluntary sector, despite comments by charities minister Ed Miliband last week that appeared to downplay its role in providing statutory services.

'Any local community that has a weak third sector will be less cohesive and less vibrant,' he said.