The government's proposal to dismantle patient and public involvement forums and set up local involvement networks instead has been heavily criticised by the Commons health select committee.

The committee's findings state: 'We do not see why PPIFs could not have been allowed to evolve. The abolition of PPIFs seems to have been driven by the need to abolish the Commission for Public and Patient Involvement in Health [the body which oversees PPIFs] rather than a real need to start again.'

The committee believes that merging existing PPIFs into LINks would have reduced the risk of losing volunteers. 'Once again the department has embarked on a structural reform with inadequate consideration of the disruption it causes,' its report says.

CPPIH chair Sharon Grant said: 'We share the committee's concern over the effect of unnecessary reform on those essential volunteers who make the system work at a local level.

'As elsewhere in health, constant change has a corrosive effect, and where accompanied by curtailment of their powers, we fear that many volunteers will walk away under the new arrangements.

'This incisive report should prompt a major rethink by ministers of these proposals - before an unworkable system is enshrined in legislation in the coming months.'

The report noted that 'LINks cannot be evidence-based', highlighting that the Department of Health was drawing up guidance before these early adopter sites had been evaluated.

The cost of the move also raised concerns. The committee questioned whether 'the government has taken insufficient account of the cost of change' and also highlighted that early adopter sites had not been given fixed budgets.

Committee chair Kevin Barron MP said the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill left many questions unanswered and that it would be 'wise for the government to get their response to the report out as quickly as possible'.

The report says that the DoH should give clear direction on what LINks should do and their structure - whether this should be a 'vague and woolly' network style or a PPIF-plus model that may reproduce existing weaknesses.

As reported by HSJ last week (news, page 7, 19 April), the report upheld PPIFs' visitation rights saying: 'It is vital that LINks have the same right of entry to places where NHS care is carried out as PPIFs.'