The opportunity to be involved in the design and running of healthcare services in one of the patient rights enshrined in the NHS Constitution. Patient involvement is now very much (and quite rightly) coming to the forefront on the minds of those in charge of the NHS. As a patient, I think this is brilliant. Gordon Browns vision of user feedback like on eBay being replicated in healthcare is slowly being realised.
The key to ensuring that this is not just a tick-boxing exercise to enable patients to exercise that right, and to show willing to "listen", is to USE their feedback and contributions. The caveat here is that it has to be in a format that facilitates such use.
For example, having just sent considerable time trawling though NHS Choices and Patient Opinion feedback websites, it is clear that patients are keen to feedback and contribute. However there needs to guidance as to how their feedback is actually used - to act as a prompt on how to best fill out the forms. For example, when asked what could be improved, there were countless answered with just "everything" or "food" or "staff". Although that is possibly true, it is not conducive to using that feedback to promote change - what exactly needs changing? With the threat of feedback-fatigue across the nation, feedback really does need to be used. Without blaming NHS managers for not using it, the system of collecting feedback needs to be revised so that what is collected can easily facilitate change.
The second issue is around patient consultations on new service designs. The process of developing a new service is very complicated - tendering, market, provider and commissioners make for a confusing landscape! In asking patients to help inform the NHS. they need to understand the background and reality of the environment which is the backdrop to their decisions.
But the balance is hard to achieve - the need to grasp these concepts can isolate and exclude a number of patients that want to contribute. Patients with learning difficulties are important service users and therefore a critical group to engage without smothering in NHS facts!
I'm not sure what the answer is! But I know that 10 months ago, if I was asked about my healthcare services, I would have launched into a rant and diatribe of personal anecdotes with which anyone would have been pushed to find constructive use!!!