News and Comment

Engaging patients and the public in the future of the NHS: why is it important and how do we do it?

Tuesday 25 March 2014


On Thursday we’ll be hosting one of our regular breakfast seminars, looking at the transformative potential of patient and public experiences to improve the way the NHS designs, commissions and delivers its services.

Increasing the amount of patient and public involvement in the NHS has been a longstanding goal for those working in the sector. In recent years however the impetus behind this goal has gathered steam. Initiatives like the Friends and Family test and conditions in the new CCG assurance framework have shifted the emphasis on engaging patients and the public from something important, to something integral to the high-level vision of the health service’s future.

With so many efforts being expended on this agenda you could be forgiven for asking why is engaging patients and the public so important to those leading and managing in the NHS?

The simple truth is if done well and meaningfully, involving the public in decision-making processes can lead to better outcomes for all. In our own work we have seen how this approach contributes to better services, higher standards of care and greater efficiency savings at all levels of the health service – whether it be involving the public in discussions on how hospital services might be reconfigured to deliver better outcomes in North West and South West London; or working to implement Shared Decision Making in GP Practices. 

How and where does public and patient involvement add value?

Public and patients voice can add value at all levels of the system, from planning to delivery. For example, putting patient and carer voices at the centre can be useful:

  • to identify needs and aspirations of public and patients;
  • to influence developing priorities, strategies and plans;
  • to improve services and design effective pathways;
  • to procure services differently;
  • in monitoring and evaluating service delivery and holding NHS boards and commissioners to account

Are we talking about something radically different, or building on existing good practice?

Many good examples of patient and public engagement will already be going on in different areas of the health service. Improving efforts in this area is not about reinventing the wheel but building on and adding to this good practice. However, in some circumstances the ‘how we’ve always done it’ approach may not be best suited to achieving the transformation needed. If we consider patient voice as an untapped resource, the approaches best suited to accessing and harnessing it may have to be more innovative and radical than those we are used to. A good example of this can be seen in NHS Citizen Assembly, the new participation infrastructure for NHS England which has been designed to change the relationship between the public’s relationship with the health service from a consumer of its services to a citizen of the NHS. As we have blogged about previously if public sector organisations are to maximise the potential of their public, then they will have to learn to think about and communicate with them differently.

We’re looking forward to discussing these and other issues at the seminar next Thursday and we’re fortunate to have such an experienced and diverse panel of speakers in attendance. Those of you unable to attend in person can follow and contribute to discussions using the #PatientEngagement hashtag on the day. We’ll also be blogging and about the event and producing a policy paper on this subject so watch this space!