Notes from the field of public involvement

Monday, 12 February 2007

Petitioning motorists have more clout than patients

Does Government pay more attention to petitioning motorists than to patients? That could be a reasonable conclusion, judging from the plethora of news stories that an e-petition on the 10 Downing Street website, set up by a private individual three months ago, has broken through the 1M figure in collecting signatures opposing government road-charging plans.

The new e-petitioning function is designed to allow citizens to bring concerns to the attention of Tony Blair. Great idea - at least for angry motorists. The remedy for angry patients is not going to be so direct.

Commitment to health petitioning abandoned

The Department of Health appears to be ducking out of its commitment to public petitioning to trigger community action, which it pushed so strongly in the White Paper Our Health Our Care Our Say and then outlined in the July 2006 Health Reform in England Commissioning Framework consultation.

Back in January 2006, Government said

"We will go further in giving people the power to demand changes where community services are unresponsive or resistant to their needs. As well as the independent user surveys referred to earlier, we will ensure that, where a specified number or proportion of users petition the service provider for improvements, the provider will have to respond, within a specified time, explaining how they will improve the service or why they cannot do so. This will apply to local GP practices as well as other services commissioned or provided by the PCT."

This is a pretty clear and comprehensive commitment to direct democracy that has been shown to work elsewhere. But we are not to get it in the NHS, despite earlier assurances. Instead we shall have the oddly-named "community call for action" which emerged as an add-on to the recent Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill.

Petitioning is worth fighting for

As I said in the HSJ on 25 January, the "community call for action" is significantly inferior to community petitioning. It puts a local councillor between you and your right to petition service providers and make them respond about how they will improve the service or explain why they cannot do so.

An important commitment to patient and public involvement is getting lost and more people should be saying so. The Health Select Committee's enquiry into PPI is an ideal way to turn the spotlight on Government's abandoned commitment to public petitioning. We hope its members will be bold enough to take this opportunity.

Otherwise our conclusion will have to be car drivers vote and are listened to, but patients are expected to take what they are given. The difference perhaps in the minds of the Treasury is that one is a source of income and the other an expense.

Andrew Craig | (Problem occured connecting to database: The server requested authentication method unknown to the client