Published: 13/06/2002, Volume II2, No.5809 Page 20

I learnt from your reports ('Back to front', news focus, 23 May; 'Honesty is best policy', conference focus, 30 May) that the problems in Wyre Forest with the downgrading of Kidderminster General Hospital were aired at the recent NHS Confederation conference.

The first article reported the assumption that the proposed changes were the correct and only possible changes and were only opposed by 'some strands of the community'. Subsequent events have confirmed the strongly held belief of 97 per cent of local people (source: Mori) that the changes were neither appropriate nor implementable.

The second report does not make the simple fact clear that if there is virtually universal and sustained objection to a plan, then the plan is likely to be wrong. It is suicidal for an MP not to support his constituents' views and to criticise local press for supporting them when he himself did not.

Although I was disappointed not to have been invited to put the patients' point of view to the conference, it was unnecessary, as the main lesson has already been learnt. Public health minister Hazel Blears, then junior health minister, wrote in September last year: 'The culture within the NHS needs to change so that the views of patients and citizens are not only valued, but listened to and acted upon as well.'

The culture has begun to change.

The government has listened to and acted upon the outcry at the abolition of community health councils by extending the powers and duties of primary care trust patients' forums in the recent amendments to the NHS reform bill.

Informed, independent and assertive local people on these bodies, together with the new overview and scrutiny committees of local councils, will ensure that similar local tragedies are unlikely to occur again.

A user-friendlier name would help - how about citizens' health councils?

Dr Richard Taylor, MP, Wyre Forest