Patients in the UK are set to gain more power and influence over a greater number of local healthcare services following the birth of new Local Involvement Networks (LINKs) on April 1, the government has announced.

Supported by central government funding of £84 million over the next three years, 150 LINKs will replace just under 400 patient forums to give communities a better say in health and social care services. “LINks will be run by local people and local groups to give communities a stronger voice and bring real accountability to the whole system,” explained Health Minister Ann Keen.

It is hoped that independently-run LINks, which, unlike patient forums, will have the power to hold NHS 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 offer several plus points over the old system: 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 they will offer a one-stop-shop for those who want to have their say, it claims.

Local authorities are required to contract a ‘host’ organisation to set up and support a LINk in their area by September 2008.