Hearing the voice of the patient

Need to lobby for your services? Your patients are your strongest card says Richard Griffin.

A year ago I decided to become a lay member of my local clinical commissioning group (CCG) in London. I did this not just because I care about the NHS (and, if I am honest as I get older – increasingly social care) but because I believe in the importance of patient and public involvement. Why does public involvement matter? Because it makes a difference. 
My CCG’s vision is to put the voice of the patient ‘at the heart of all it decisions’. It has this commitment because public involvement helps make services safer, leads to better outcomes and improves patient experience.
In the last few months the public who sit on my CCG’s patient reference group have helped shape commissioning contracts (the CCG spends around £340 million a year commissioning local services), responded to proposals to create local GP ‘hubs’, quizzed the CCG’s chair about the local sustainable transformation plan, ensured that the information the CCG produces is ‘user friendly’ and commented on proposals by a local trust to integrate out of hospital care – which, I am pleased to say, physiotherapy was a key element of. 
In all these discussions, the patient representative group has a fundamental role in helping the CCG see things through the eyes of the patient. 
Although the group is the most formal means of involving the public (it is a sub-committee of the CCG’s governing board), it is only one of the ways the CCG seeks to hear the voice of patients. Every general practice should have a patient participation group, for instance.
As a former employee of the CSP, I have been pleased to see that the CCG employs allied health professionals on its staff and actively seeks expert views from the professions on commissioning decisions involving therapy services. It is clear to me that physiotherapy is critical to meeting many of the challenges care faces, not least the need to support people to remain independent and out of hospitals.
How then should you respond to the patient engagement agenda? Most important, I would suggest, is ensuring you listen to your patients and clients in your day-to-day practice. Have you asked service users whether they have ideas about how you could improve delivery? If you receive complaints do you treat these as an opportunity to learn? When planning for future service delivery, where is the voice of the patient? Do you promote examples of co-production? Do you put yourself in the shoes of the people you care for? 
Patients should be partners. Physiotherapists and assistants support the care of so many people, making a real difference to their lives. Make sure you take account of their voice.
Richard Griffin is the lay member for patient and public engagement at a London CCG. He works for Bucks New University and for Health Education England in North West London. He was previously director of employment relations at the CSP.
Richard Griffin

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