The National Consumer Council has called on the Healthcare Commission to move beyond the 'rhetoric' of public engagement to ensure services meet patients' needs rather than those of regulators.

In a report this week, it says the establishment of local involvement networks will make it even more crucial to involve the public in health regulation.

"We are entering a new era of citizen engagement, and our regulatory system needs to learn to put people at the heart of its work," it states.

The report is based on observations at two Healthcare Commission test sites, where events were held to reach out to patients and the public, including "seldom-heard" groups.

Its conclusions are intended to have wider relevance across public sector regulators.

While most public service regulators talk openly about their primary duty to service users, "this rhetoric is not yet internalised in organisations' systems and cultures, or embedded in ground-level activities", it says.

Regulation is viewed as a "closed relationship" between regulators and organisations, wrongly assuming that "inspectors have a superior grasp of the issues".

"There is a danger that providers will deliver services modelled on what satisfies regulators, rather than on what the public needs."

It recommends a "major rethink" over commissioning to consider how service users can influence the process.

In addition, it proposes that regulators invest senior members with responsibility for driving engagement and the establishment of strong lines of communication with local involvement networks.

A spokesperson from the Healthcare Commission said: "We welcome this report, which is extremely helpful for us. We invited them to look at the work we do, as they have vast experience of community engagement.

"We strive to engage patients and the public in all our work and to keep their views and experiences at the heart of our assessments of healthcare organisations. We will look at the recommendations in the report and take action where appropriate."