Letters

The abolition of community health councils seems to be as unpopular as it is irrational.

Junior health minister Gisela Stuart, having valued CHCs in June, supported their abolition in July.

Her recent statements on the subject include: 'We need to move away from this outdated 'watchdog' model that polarises patients on the one side and the NHS on the other';

'watchdogs play an important role and more are needed'; and: 'nobody, for example, would accuse Marks & Spencer's complaints department staff of lacking effectiveness and inefficiency just because they are employed by Marks & Spencer'.

Having to argue, in August, in favour of something that you were against in June must be about as easy as having to represent a party that wants one thing in England and something different in Scotland and Wales.

Her remarks are hardly persuasive. Does she mean that we need more watchdogs in England but not in Scotland and Wales? That would be strange, but it could be true.

The Marks & Spencer quote borders on sensible until you realise it was in reply to a suggestion that the new bodies would lack independence, not effectiveness or efficiency.

Health secretary Alan Milburn attacks CHCs for being 'insufficiently independent'. But the new structures look a great deal less independent.

The Local Government Association is busy trying to defend the idea of local authorities scrutinising things that they may soon be running.

The idea that most councillors have the time, inclination, knowledge and ability to effectively monitor the NHS clearly comes from somebody who has not met many councillors. The rushed decisions and party whips of the council chamber hardly belong here.

The acting director of London region, John Bacon, recently wrote to CHC members pointing out that the new patient representative will 'lack your local strategic knowledge and expertise' and 'have less experience than you'. It appears that they will be unelected in any meaningful sense as well.

Why does the government keep forgetting that the vast majority of CHC members are elected? If replacing elected independent bodies with new, unelected, fragmented bodies that lack strategic knowledge, independence, expertise and experience is such a good idea, perhaps I had better consult a psychiatrist. If not, I might do well to become one.

Councillor John C Murphy Hounslow CHC