Daniela Muenzel, communications and outreach officer at Healthwatch Lambeth, explains the role that local Healthwatch organisations play in ensuring that patients and the public have a say in shaping health and social care services.
Health and social care developments need more public say
Health and social care services and systems are changing fast, at both a local and national level. In recent years, borough-specific clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have merged into larger, regional organisations, called sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs), such as Our Healthier South East London, which covers six boroughs. Meanwhile individual boroughs are developing new integrated health and social care alliances, such as Lambeth Together in Lambeth. In this context, it is important that patients and the public have their say about the services they use and might need in the future, and that there is accountability and proper public engagement.
Healthwatch for patient and public engagement
Local Healthwatch are the official bodies tasked with ensuring that patients and the public are heard when it comes to shaping and improving health and social care services. The network of local Healthwatch covers the whole of England across the 152 local authority areas. As local Healthwatch we find out what people like about services and what could be improved, and we share these views with those with the power to make change happen. Our unique role of being commissioned by local councils, while holding independent statutory power to advocate for public involvement, places us in an impactful position. Holding various tags from “friendly critics” to “local watchdog” and “consumer champions”, Healthwatch have the power to hold decision makers, including trusts, CCGs and councils, accountable to listening to local communities.
How we do this
We listen to local people and ensure decision makers do too. Anyone can get in touch with us by calling, emailing, or talking to us through the outreach we do in communities. We run regular Enter & View Projects, where we go and visit local services to gather feedback and observe how the service is doing. The feedback is shared with those delivering and making decisions about services, and we ensure it is taken up or considered in their service planning and development.
In Lambeth specifically, we work in partnership with local groups such as the Lambeth Learning Disability Assembly, Black Thrive, Lambeth Advance Care Planning Consortium and others, in order to make sure that we hear the issues and priorities from all parts of the community, and that everyone’s voice is represented in the work we do.
Have your say
Alongside patient and public involvement in academic research to develop evidence-based best practice, there is a pressing need for more people to have their say in ongoing and immediately upcoming local changes. We want to make sure that this happens now, before changes that will directly affect people get developed and approved with insufficient public engagement.
For readers from other boroughs, we’d like to encourage you to look up your local Healthwatch and find out more about what they are doing for your community.