Published: 18/04/2002, Volume II2, No. 5801 Page 10

Allegations that the Department of Health was involved in dispatching a letter from a patients' group in support of ministers' proposals to members of the Lords were raised as peers debated the NHS Reform Bill last week.

The letter, from Long-term Medical Conditions Alliance chair Melinda Letts, distanced the group from other patients' organisations by opposing moves to set up locality-based patients' councils. Ms Letts, a member of the NHS Modernisation Board, said the government's proposals appeared to be 'perfectly adequate'.

It was sent to Lords on the eve of the committee-stage debate when they were set to discuss an amendment from opposition, crossbench and rebel Labour peers to create the councils.

Conservative health spokesman Earl Howe told peers that Ms Letts, though 'an admirable person', had put herself 'at risk of being classified as a stooge of the government'.

'The envelope in which her letter reached me today was identical - with an identical label - to an envelope containing a helpful letter from the minister. I should be delighted to be told that I am wrong in concluding that both letters were dispatched centrally by the DoH.'

Junior health minister Lord Hunt failed to address the point in his reply. The amendment was withdrawn, but is expected to be pushed through at report stage.