NHS watchdog staff 'told not to criticise' Welsh Government
Staff working for Wales' community health councils have been told by senior colleagues not to criticise or embarrass the Welsh Government over plans to scrap the independent watchdogs, BBC Wales has learned.
Ministers have consulted on replacing CHCs with one organisation.
One CHC member told BBC's Sunday Politics Wales their council's response to the consultation was "toned down".
Mutale Merrill, chairwoman of the CHC board, said the claims were untrue.
CHCs are independent bodies representing the interests of patients.
There are seven in Wales - one for each of the health boards which run NHS services. They were scrapped in England in 2003 and in Scotland in 2005.
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The Welsh Government has said there were questions over whether the CHC model, which has been in place since 1974, is "flexible enough" to respond to health and social care services which work increasingly across organisational boundaries.
It also said CHCs "lack visibility" and their membership was "not at all representative of local communities".
Instead, the Welsh Government proposes to create a "new independent arrangement to replace CHCs... working across health and social care".
Consultation on the plans ended in September.
BBC Wales has learned staff working for CHCs across Wales have been asked by senior colleagues not to overly-criticise or embarrass the government over the proposals.
One CHC member, speaking anonymously, said that was why their CHC's response to the consultation was "toned down".
Mutale Merrill, chairwoman of the Board of Community Health Councils, which represents and sets standards for the organisations, said: "It's not true".
"I know my staff and members have worked really hard during the consultation period and I just think it's unfair and irresponsible for this rumour to be circulating."
Plaid Cymru AM Llyr Gruffydd said: "To suggest that people should not embarrass the government I think is a total dereliction of duty."
Mr Gruffydd also criticised the government's plans.
"The CHC in north Wales is genuinely seen as the guardian of patients' interests," he said.
"To lose that kind of integrity in terms of the voice of the patient I think would be an unmitigated disaster and to move from an organisation that's deeply rooted in the community to what could potentially be a very remote national body, no doubt based in Cardiff, would be a terrible, terrible loss."
The Welsh Government has previously said its aim "is to strengthen citizen engagement across health and social care".
A spokesman said: "We firmly believe people should be free to comment openly and honestly on any consultation process, especially one that potentially affects the future of their organisation."
He added it was considering the "large number" of responses received to the consultation.