No one expects to or plans to use the health system more than occasionally. I certainly know that my family and I did not. However, because of my son’s cancer treatment, I have seen first hand how primary, planned and emergency care work for children, and when he turned 25, for adults. Sometimes it has been brilliant, for example when we move seamlessly from an appointment clinic, to treatment, to pharmacy and then home, with everyone on the same page. Sometimes it has not. For example, when a weekend rush to the Emergency Department of a different hospital means that he is admitted because there is no access to his clinical notes, and the doctors struggle to come up with a treatment plan, or when clinicians do not listen to us or to each other.
So, I have seen the system from the perspective of a patient, parent and carer, and in my work as Director of South East London Healthwatch too.
Across south east London, Healthwatch staff and volunteers speak to local people from many different communities about their experiences of care. Healthwatch is the independent health and social care champion. We make sure NHS leaders and other decision makers hear your voice and use your feedback to improve care. We also help people to get the information and advice they need.
From speaking to local people, I know that many face unfair differences when accessing the care and support they need, often based on where they live, their gender, their sexual orientation, or their ethnicity – and that current health and care services are not always designed in a way to meet the needs of local people. Recently, we have heard that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted these unfair differences, but the stark reality is that these differences have always been there.
I have seen partnership working amongst health and care organisations across south east London strengthened especially during the last two years, with local health, care and voluntary organisations coming together to continue to provide essential health and care services, and to support people to stay well.
From July, this partnership working will be formalised under the creation of the South East London Integrated Care System (SEL ICS). The ICS will be responsible for providing health and care services. This includes local NHS services, local councils and voluntary and community organisations.
I believe that the changes to the health and care system are a real opportunity to address these differences and make a positive change to the care that people receive.
What do the changes to the health and care system mean for you and your community
At the moment, you might have a number of complex health issues which means you spend time at lots of appointments, telling lots of different health and care professionals the same thing. I know that this can be frustrating and distressing, especially when you need help and support quickly.
By working together, the ICS can offer more joined-up support to people. This means that if you need support from your GP, a social worker and a housing officer, they will work seamlessly together to make sure that you get the help and support that you need, when you need it.
The ICS wants to make it easier for professionals to talk to each other, share data and resources, so that people can be treated more quickly, and earlier, to keep them well – rather than only treating them when they get sick.
Engaging with local people and communities
One of the plans the ICS has is to work more closely with local people and communities to understand their experiences and the barriers they face when accessing health and care.
The ICS has set out its commitment to engagement through its ‘Working with Local People and Communities’ strategy. The strategy includes the ICS’ plans for involving local people and communities in their planning and decision-making. They also outline their commitment to talking and listening to local communities to understand what matters to them.
I firmly believe that with the changes to the health and care system and formalisation of the ICS, there is a real opportunity to do things differently, by truly listening to local people and acting on what they say.
A good place to start would be speaking to local communities who have feeling of mistrust towards the health and care system, to understand their barriers to accessing support. I would urge ICS colleagues to take the time to really listen and understand what is important to these communities, and what changes they would like to see.
Some communities have become disillusioned with the idea of talking to people about the difficulties they face when accessing care, as so many times before, organisations have gathered feedback but not followed up to let people know what has happened because of their feedback.
The ICS now has a real opportunity to reach out to communities they have engaged with and share how their feedback has contributed to improvements in health and care. It is also an opportunity to test ideas and to understand whether changes to health and care services are working for them.
For me, transparency is key when it comes to engaging with local people and communities – if something is not possible, or something cannot be changed then the ICS should be open and honest with local people.
How can you get involved?
Local people are key to making change happen and I would encourage you to share your views and experiences of using health and care services in south east London.
Whether you have had a good experience or bad experience of an NHS or other care service, it is important to share your feedback. Your voice will make a difference. Positive feedback lets organisations know when they are doing things well, and negative feedback is useful for improving services, so they meet the needs of people who need them.
Get in touch with your local Healthwatch. This is a great way to share your feedback. It is quick and easy to share your experiences. There is a Healthwatch in each borough and as an independent statutory body, we listen to the issues that really matter to local people and work with local decision-makers to improve health and care services. Everything you share with us is completely confidential.
To contact the Healthwatch in your borough please click on one of the links below.