In the light of the proposal to abolish community health councils, the letter from the former chair of South Birmingham CHC highlighting the costs of the private finance initiative (letters', pages 2223, 3 August) is a timely reminder of the important role that CHCs play in scrutinising public policy on the NHS.

Making the NHS more responsive, accessible and accountable to patients is rightly at the centre of the modernisation agenda.

However, in seeking to strengthen local accountability, we need to be careful not to lose the expertise and experience of those already involved in representing the concerns of local communities. We support the aim of empowering patients, but need to ensure that the skills and expertise of CHC staff are retained within the NHS.

Roy Paterson National officer Unison health group