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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2005, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
US-style forums 'to reform NHS'
GP at work
Nine out of 10 NHS patients are seen in primary care settings
Plans to reform NHS care outside of hospitals are being drawn up at a regional forum based on those which help shape health policy in the US.

The Department of Health consultation comes ahead of a white paper next year and allows the public to pitch ideas.

The first of four regional meetings is starting in Gateshead with 100 people being paid to come up with ideas for GP, pharmacy and sex health services.

Further forums will follow in London, Leicester, Plymouth and Birmingham.

But patient representatives questioned the need to pay people 75 a day to take part.

I am all for innovative ways of involving the public, but do we really need to be paying money to get people to have their say?
Simon Williams, of the Patients Association

In total nearly 1,500 people will attend the events where they will be guided through the intricacies of the NHS by experts.

The public are expected to debate plans to reform all areas of primary care - where nine in 10 NHS patient contacts happen.

In particular, the merits of allowing patients to register with GPs where it suits them, whether near work, home or family, and extending the provision of mental health and sexual health services to libraries, leisure centres and even supermarkets are likely to be discussed.

Out-of-hours care, NHS Direct and walk-in centres will also be on the agenda, but the government stressed the public has a blank canvass from which to draw up policy.

Society

The Department of Health said the public have been specially selected and are being paid to make sure a representative cross-section of society can attend.

A spokeswoman added it had introduced the new form of consultation, which has been enthusiastically pushed by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, as it wanted to hear from more than just the normal stakeholder groups

"This white paper consultation is very different to the approach normally taken, but is part of the government's commitment to listening to and engaging with the public, patients and staff."

The meetings are based on US-style "town hall" meetings which have been run for the last 10 years by a not-for-profit organisation called America Speaks.

An online consultation is also starting to allow anyone to contribute.

Simon Williams, director of policy at the Patients Association, said reform of primary care was need to make it more "patient focused".

But he said: "I am all for innovative ways of involving the public, but do we really need to be paying money to get people to have their say? Is this the best use of money?"




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