The King's Fund warns primary care trusts against excluding the voices of local people

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Primary care trusts are in danger of becoming distant, corporate bodies that fail to value the voice of local lay people, says a new King's Fund study.

Every Voice Counts shows that primary care organisations (primary caretTrusts and primary care groups) have struggled to implement public involvement work.

The study says that primary care trusts need to become new-style NHS institutions, based on openness and partnership, if they are to build a greater role for local people in decision making. It also urges them to maintain the community focus that characterised primary care groups.

Every Voice Counts looks at the activities of six London primary care organisations in achieving greater public involvement, and shows that applying national policy to a wide variety of local circumstances to create meaningful public engagement is not easy.

The main barriers to public involvement work are that it remains chronically under-funded; it is too focussed on short-term initiatives rather than long-term organisational support; and not enough commitment is made at the outset to achieving identifiable changes in policy or practice.

The King's Fund primary care director, Steve Gillam, said:

'Primary care trusts offer opportunities to involve the public in decision making. This report shows how some organisations have overcome the barriers they face and should help others in the field to implement public involvement work.

'As the next phase of primary care groups become trusts in April, they should ensure they do not lose the expertise they have already built up. Public involvement should not drop down the agenda and should be encouraged at practice level.'

Notes to editors

Every Voice Counts: Primary Care Organisations (PCOs) and Public Involvement, by Steve Gillam, Will Anderson, Dominique Florin and Lesley Mountford, is available from The King's Fund bookshop on 020 7307 2591, price £7.99.

Will Anderson joined the King's Fund in 1999 to co-ordinate the London-wide evaluation of public involvement in Primary Care Groups. He now works freelance.

Dominique Florin is a fellow in the King's Fund's Primary Care Programme and has trained in both public health medicine and general practice.

Lesley Mountford is a Specialist Registrar in Public Health. She is
currently working at the Greater London Authority as part of the Health Policy Team and is also a practising general practitioner.

For a review copy or interviews with Steve Gillam please contact Daniel Reynolds on 020 7307 2581 or Andrew Bell on 020 7307 2585.