Health secretary Andrew Lansley has set out likely topics to feature in a continuing programme of work for the NHS Future Forum.
Giving evidence to the health select committee on the changes to his health reforms, Mr Lansley confirmed that the forum would continue its work, at least in the short term but with a narrower brief.
He told MPs the government had found the forum to be a “very useful means by which we could engage with people and try and understand the nature of specific concerns”.
“From that point of view we think it can potentially be a continuing feature of how we do our business,” Mr Lansley said.
He identified three areas that the forum was likely to look into in the near future – education and training; how the NHS would link in future with public health; and engagement of the public around the use of information in choosing healthcare.
He said: “ We’ve already made it clear in discussion with the future forum that we would welcome it if they were able to take forward the work on education and training which they’ve already begun and develop those issues further.
“Secondly, we are keen and I think they may well be willing to work on the NHS contribution to public health, so we can be very clear on how the two structures – public health and health – work together.”
Thirdly, building on the forum’s experience of engaging the public, he said: “There is a further area of work which we want o develop which is about how patients can access higher quality information and use that information in order to help them participate in their own care and make more decisions about their care.”
DH director general of policy, strategy and finance Richard Douglas was also asked what the total cost of the listening exercise was – both in terms of running the exercise and its wider implementation.
He said the cost of running the exercise itself would be between £40,000 and £100,000, telling the committee: “We did it cheap”.
“It may get up to £100,000 by the time we’ve gone through everything but it won’t be any more than that,” he said.
Mr Douglas added that he thought the cost of implementing the changes resulting from the pause would not be “particularly significant” – for example the cost of keeping strategic health authorities going for a further year, would be offset by savings from few redundancies.
He said the total would be included in the impact assessment for the Health Bill, which would be available when it entered the Lords. “I wouldn’t want to quote a figure at the moment,” he said.
Mr Lansley also told the committee he thought there were currently 16 clinical commissioning/”>commissioning groups that crossed unitary or upper tier local authority boundaries – potentially in breach of a bill amendment that they should not normally do so.
He said “most of the 16 relate to the catchment areas of hospital”, which he suggested might be seen as a valid reason for continuing in their present configuration.
However, he said all of them would be required to reassess the reasons for cross a council boundary and that the NHS Commissioning Board “at some point will take a view”.