The watchdog Community Health Councils of Sussex have been given a stay of execution.

CHCs across the county were due to be abolished on September 1 but will continue to monitor health services until December 1.

The CHCs will eventually be replaced by patient forums which the Government says should be running by then.

Sue Cleeve, acting chief officer at Brighton, Hove and Lewes CHC, said: "We are pleased because it means patients and the public will continue to have a proper service for a while longer.

"However, there are many staff and members who are feeling angry and frustrated. For the last three years we have had the threat of closure hanging over our heads.

"Finally, we were told back in January we were to end on September 1. We were told to start winding down.

"We were due to get our redundancy notices last Saturday but now everything is being changed again.

"It is a frustrating and difficult time and I think we have been badly treated by the Department of Health.

"CHC staff and members have a lot of skills and experience that should be put to good use.

"The whole way this has been handled is chaotic. What we don't want to happen is for us to close without proper replacement organisations running properly."

CHCs were established in 1974 as patient advocates within the NHS and employ about 700 staff across England.

There are 5,000 volunteer members who help some 30,000 people with complaints every year.

The Government first signalled its intention to abolish CHCs in 2000 when it announced plans for a patient-involvement shake up.

Within each NHS and primary care trust (PCT) there will be a patients' forum as a first port of call. These will be supported by the new Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health (CPPIH), which started on January 1.

Its job is to promote people's involvement in decisions to ensure the public's voice is heard and enforced.

New Patient Advice and Liaison Services (Pals) are also being developed to provide information.