Junior health minister Hazel Blears has announced that GP and former Trent regional chair Dr Peter Barrett will chair the new independent reconfiguration panel.

The panel, promised in the NHS plan, will make recommendations to ministers on contested hospital reorganisations and other NHS changes in England.

But the terms of reference for the panel - set to comprise a third health professionals, a third patients and citizens' representatives and a third managers from 'green-light' trusts and health authorities - have come under fire.

The NHS plan said the panel would 'explicitly take account of the rigour of the local consultation process'. But this commitment was missing from the terms of reference published last week.

Elizabeth Manero, chair of London Health Link, said the disappearance of this was her 'main worry'. At present, community health councils could refer service changes to the health secretary if they felt the consultation process had been inadequate.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'The 'quality of consultation' clause is important and is to be looked at by the reconfiguration panel.'

The panel is set to start work in the new year.