Community health councils 'must be more visible'
Community health councils (CHCs) in Wales are to re-launch themselves at their annual conference after admitting many patients do not know they exist.
The watchdogs want higher profiles as bodies which can raise concerns about the NHS when things go wrong.
Peter Meredith-Smith, CHCs board director, admits public awareness is "poor" and a "real weakness".
"It is disappointing that we have been described as 'the best kept secret in Wales,'" he told BBC Wales.
The conference in Cardiff on Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of the watchdogs, but will set out challenges on how they need to change.
The CHCs believe too few patients know they exist and they also need to be easier to access and to work together more effectively.
"If the CHC is to effectively discharge its role as the patient watchdog for Wales, then the patient and the public need to know we exist, what we do and how to contact us," said Mr Meredith-Smith.
"Recent healthcare-related reviews have found that general awareness of CHCs is poor.
"That is a real weakness which we intend to address with vigour and it is a prominent factor in our three-year strategy."
Mr Meredith-Smith said the biggest concern of patients is pressures on accident and emergency departments.
Reorganisation of hospital services had led to concerns, especially in rural areas where distance and transport issues can be "exceptionally worrying".
The patients' watchdog is looking to work more closely with regulator Health Inspectorate Wales (HIW) in future.
CHCs will unveil a formal link with HIW, which is responsible for inspecting and regulating healthcare in Wales.
The patients' body has already held joint inspections at 38 GP surgeries last year during a pilot project.
The desire to revamp how they operate is set against a background of:
- Complaints over failings in care at Neath Port Talbot and Princess of Wales hospitals, which led to the Trusted To Care review
- Concerns raised by Ann Clwyd MP following the treatment of her late husband in hospital in Cardiff
- Hospital reorganisations, which have been controversial, including high-profile campaigns in west and north Wales
CHCs were scrapped in England but kept in Wales.
New legislation is also due to come into effect next month which aims to bring a more consistent approach in how the network of eight CHCs work across Wales.
The CHC board will be challenged with giving the organisation more of a focus.
It also hopes to work more closely with the Older People's Commissioner and the care social services inspectorate.