The Department of Health today urged primary care trusts (PCTs) to engage better with patients and the public in developing plans and making decisions about local health services.
New guidance, published today, will help the public have more say in decisions made by their PCT, enabling them to shape local health services.
The strengthened "Duty to Involve" guidance will also make feedback on public consultations more transparent and accessible.
This follows on from Lord Darzi's review of the NHS earlier this year in which he recommended that any changes to NHS services should be transparent, locally-led and for the benefit of patients.
Today's guidance "Real Involvement" is being issued to help PCTs and other NHS organisations understand changes to the Duty, and also to offer practical advice on how to put local people at the heart of service changes.
Increased patient involvement will enable local NHS organisations to put patients' wishes first and give staff the freedom to respond and deliver safer, more personalised care. Developing NHS services in partnership with the public and staff plays an important role in creating a modern NHS which meets the changing needs of the population both nationally and locally.
Health Minister Ann Keen said: "Feedback from patients is one of the most powerful tools available to the NHS to help improve services which is why the Duty to Involve has been strengthened. The NHS is a public service so it is only right that the public should have their say on how the service is shaped.
"Helping local NHS organisations to understand and act upon the Duty is essential to making the most of this feedback which is why we have produced this guidance to help them involve patients effectively."
The new Duty to Involve is also expected to be included in the NHS Constitution due to come into force next year. The Duty will take effect next month but will be included as one of the existing rights set out in the Constitution - to make it easy for patients to find all their rights in one place.