CHCs were set up in 1974 as statutory bodies, independently funded through Regional Health Authorities, with a brief to represent patients and the local public. While there were some ineffectual CHCs, many included an elected component representing local communities, charities and other organisations. With full time staff, the best CHCs developed a body of expertise, and a group of local activists and experts who knew the structure and working of local services.
CHCs visited and reported on local NHS services, they coordinated nationally and published headline grabbing reports, they organised or supported local campaigns (such as the 1995 fight to stop the closure of Edgware Hospital and the 1997 fight to save Kidderminster Hospital, which mobilised 50-thousand people to march) and held NHS bureaucrats to account.
CHCs were abolished by Alan Milburn in 2003 (part of the same legislation that introduced Foundation Trusts ). They have been replaced with a succession of weak bodies culminating in Healthwatch established by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act .
It is no coincidence that CHCs were scrapped alongside the creation of Foundation Trusts, because one of the new freedoms afforded to Foundation Trusts is secrecy - they are no longer required to meet in public or publish their board papers.
Real patient representation has become politically inconvenient as more NHS 'reforms' have been pushed through against the wishes of the public. 'Consultations' are held at short notice, not at all, or will not include a full range of options, and their findings are likely to be ignored if inconvenient. This was the basis on which the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign organised a legal challenge against phase-1 of the so-called Path to Excellence .
NHS 'consultations' have often been seen as little more than a pointless ritual, designed to blow-off-steam while eventually allowing unelected NHS managers to force through most of the changes they want regardless of local community views and wishes.
Since NHS Plan 2000 the proliferation of private and confidential contracts and tendering processes has led to increased secrecy due to 'commercial confidentiality'. This has reduced the public's right (in practice) to see what is being proposed by local health commissioners, and to develop a coherent critique and response to plans which many would oppose if they knew of them. See Big Picture - Post 2012 NHS Plans .
NHS For Sale: Myths, Lies and Deception - Dr Jackie Davis et al.
Pages: 102, 103, 106, 108, 110
- Casting Care Aside - Health Emergency (PDF)