Lost voices: saving patient solutions

Most agree that it is vitally important to find patient-led solutions for NHS problems. But how many sources of patient feedback are routinely overlooked or discarded? We hear from Jules Horton on how she worked with the Bevan Commission, Public Health Wales, Gavo and Swansea University to salvage 1,400 patient responses.

My story begins in 2012 whilst suffering effects of depression post-cancer, along with a number of other health conditions, I reluctantly went on an Education Programme for Patients (EPP) course in Chronic Disease Self-Management in Pontypool, Torfaen. I had no expectations from this course as I already felt I was an ‘expert’ in keeping myself alive and was also a full-time carer.

What I found when I started the course was that I was not alone. Every other person in that room (including the tutors) were also suffering long term health conditions like me. The support that everyone gave to each other was incredible, the sharing of each other’s experiences although suffering different conditions were so similar it was striking.

We undertook problem solving exercises that helped participants to start to work out problems for themselves and also helping others by giving their ideas to these common problems. This produced a wide range of solutions, generated by people like me about issues that we and many others routinely faced. It was a really valuable exercise, generating lots of useful insights into our experiences of health and care and potential solutions to NHS problems. These responses were discarded at the end of the sessions and it occurred to me - wouldn’t someone be interested in hearing about these?

It seemed a crazy waste of such valuable information and I became determined to make sure that it could be seen and heard by people able to do something about it. So often it seems that the NHS is under attack by the media, but in these reports the voice of the people actually using the system was unheard.

Soon I became employed as a coordinator for EPP and I was often being asked to speak on behalf of patients by telling my story. This then led to me applying to become a Bevan Advocate (members of the public who help to inform the think tank with their lived experiences of healthcare) and with the support of the Bevan Commission I have had the opportunity to bring together the experiences of over 750 EPP participants in Wales, totalling 1,400 responses overall.

The report Patient driven solutions to common problems, with support from my colleagues from the Bevan Commission, Public Health Wales, Gavo and Swansea University, sets out some of the most commonly reported issues and more importantly practical solutions, identified by people who use the system as patients and carers.

Many of the solutions put forward by patients are not resource-heavy or difficult to implement – for example, improving communication between frontline staff and patients simply means getting rid of the jargon and managing patient expectations better. Others are more complex, but could make a huge difference in patient experiences and ensuring that we feel like equal partners in our care. For example, many patients would love to have access to their own medical notes and records so that they can prepare themselves before their appointments. This shift – in allowing patients to become custodians of their own health data – could make a huge difference in ensuring an equilibrium of responsibility between people and health professionals.

It is my belief that the NHS cannot continue to just keep fixing people, but that it must help people to help themselves and each other and it also must listen to people about what is important to them. The health system needs the solutions and views of its patients if it is to improve its services to suit people’s needs. No source of patient feedback should be overlooked – instead they should be cherished as untapped goldmines that could transform the way the NHS works for the better. I hope our mission to save patient solutions in Wales inspires others around the UK to look afresh at the way they collect and analyse patient feedback. Our voices are too valuable to lose!

Jules Horton is a Bevan Advocate and EPP Co-ordinator for Caerphilly, Torfaen & Newport.

The views contained within this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Bevan Commission.

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