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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 October 2005, 05:51 GMT
Patients take part in NHS debate
People at the regional event in London
The forums are based on a US model
Up to 1,000 patients have given their views at a mass meeting on reforming front-line NHS services such as GP practices and pharmacies.

Views given at the Birmingham gathering could help shape a government white paper on reforms due later this year.

Options such as extra drop-in clinics and allowing people to register with more than one GP, were discussed.

The public consultation was on an unprecedented scale, said BBC health correspondent Branwen Jeffries.

US-style town hall meetings have been hailed by the government as the way forward in helping to form policies.

We have had people at the regional events not wanting to go home because they have got so involved
Department of Health spokeswoman

The government said five regional events held to date, including Saturday's at Birmingham's International Convention Centre, had been a success and promised the model would be considered for future consultations.

Around one million people visit "out of hospital" services such as the family doctor or social care services every day, said our correspondent.

Those primary care services account for around 90% of contact with NHS patients.

A clear mandate for change could help the government in its negotiations with health service professionals, she added.

Getting changes right in this area of the NHS was crucial to voters' perceptions of the health service.

"The government is taking no chances," she said.

'Health MOTs'

Saturday's event in Birmingham followed others held in Gateshead, London, Leicester and Plymouth, in the last month.

Those consulted at the events have called for yearly "health MOTs" by GPs, more co-ordination between social care and doctors, and clinics run in the community by hospital consultants.

Extending the hours of GP surgeries has also been discussed.

Participants at the Birmingham event were paid up to 125 each to attend.

The government said this was to ensure a good cross section of society took part.

Those who took part were split into 100 groups to discuss four topics - patient choice, investment, whether to provide more community services and when the public should be involved in decision-making.

Payment questioned

A Department of Health spokesman said the style of consultation, introduced by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, had proved to be a great success.

"We have had people at the regional events not wanting to go home because they have got so involved in discussing what they want to happen."

Traditional online and written consultations have been carried out alongside the forums.

But some patient groups have questioned how useful the events have been.

The Patients Association agrees that hospital care needs to become more patient-friendly but has questioned whether paying people to take part is the "best use" of money.

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US-style forums 'to reform NHS'
14 Sep 05 |  Health

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