Two new resources to help facilitate the move from patient forums to Local Involvement Networks (LINks) next year under plans to give patients a better say in health and social care services have been launched by the Department of Health.

It is hoped that independently-run LINks, which, unlike patient forums, will have the power to hold National Health Service and social care commissioners to account and refer issues to local authority committees for review, will build on the improvements to care already achieved by the existing system by simplifying and strengthening its structure.

According to the DH, LINks have several plus points: they will be truly representative of local populations; instead of purely monitoring health services, they can assess all local government or NHS-funded health and social care services per geographical area; they will enable real local accountability, from the commissioning of services to front-line care; and offer a one-stop-shop for those who want to have their say, it says.

"LINks have the potential to benefit everyone who uses health and social care services - whether by making it easy for people to share their views on services, or by giving them the opportunity to represent their communities,” commented Health Minister Ann Keen. “It will also be easier for councils and the NHS to engage with the often complex networks of patient activists, voluntary and community groups by helping local organisations to speak with one voice and have a real influence over key decisions,” she added.

Preparing for change

The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill currently being considered by parliament proposes replacing the just under 400 patient forums with 150 LINks, which are expected to be ready for business from April next year. Consequently, the DH has developed two resources to help local authorities prepare for this change.

Planning your Local Involvement Network sets out how local communities can prepare for LINks, and includes a list of actions that local councils need to take, and information on who needs to be involved as well as any necessary resources for the change. Contracting a host organisation for your Local Involvement Network offers local authorities information needed to procure a host organisation that will establish and support a LINk.

"We will be engaging widely with local communities as part of the NHS Next Stage Review, and LINks are an important part in making sure that local people continue to play a central role in the design of local services,” said Keen. "Local government must get planning underway now to avoid losing existing local expertise and to help the new LINks realise their full potential. I also urge the voluntary sector to get involved by sharing their experience," she stressed.