this week

The number of consultation documents from the Department of Health has gone up sevenfold over the past five years.

The leap was revealed by health minister Jacqui Smith in reply to a written question by Liberal Democrat member of the Commons health select committee Sandra Gidley. The figures show seven consultations in 1996, rising to 13 by 1999. Last year saw a sharp jump to 32 consultations, with 48 launched between 15 January and 31 October this year.

Consultations still outstanding were set to bring the total to more than one a week by the end of the year. The figures include 'listening exercises' like that over patient and public involvement that do not meet Cabinet Office standards for consultation, allowing 12 weeks for responses.

Patients Association assistant director Simon Williams said he was 'inundated with nonsense documents', while the quality of consultation was 'getting worse'.

He added: 'They're sending us any old document because they think It is politically correct to involve patients now.

'They'll have us on a steering committee to decide the colour of their new carpet.'