We all have a vested interest in the NHS, how it’s run, what lies in store under budget cuts and how it can cope with an ever-ageing population.
None of us really want to use it but it’s a lifeline for millions.
So it’s vital people from all walks of life – from the rich to the poor, the old to the young – have a say in this monolithic state phenomenon.
It’s no different on the Fylde coast.
This is the team here ensuring YOUR voice is heard. Rather than key decisions being just taken by faceless penpushers and NHS moneymen, they try to make sure Joe Public has a say in everyday decisions from a patient’s point of view
Healthwatch is the ‘consumer watchdog’ for NHS services in the area, to keep a check on everything from maternity care and mental health treatments.
“Healthwatch is here to ensure patients have a voice in the commissioning and delivery of services.
“It’s about making sure that patient opinions drive services,” explains manager Claire Powell.
“People do appreciate the fact that someone’s asking them what they thought.”
Blackpool-based charity Empowerment took over running Healthwatch on April 1, this year. Empowerment, established for more than 20 years, provides independent support for people with health and care problems, providing free advocacy and advice.
It has since run a consultation with patients, through questionnaires, public stalls and focus groups, to gather “views, experiences and opinions”.
“We asked people what they thought were the biggest issues for Blackpool,” Ms Powell said. “Mental health and substance misuse were two of the biggest concerns. We also asked which services were working well, which weren’t working as well as they might or weren’t listening as well as they might.
“Now we determine what areas we’ll look at.”
The body has now set out its priorities for the coming year; from July through to the end of the year it will review: maternity care, outpatients units, the effects of social care cuts, end of life care, mental health, and discharge and aftercare.
It will also consult on: mental health support, dentists, homecare, hospital staffing levels and morale, and care homes.
Empowerment chief executive Ellen Miller said: “We envisage them all being focussed on an independent assessment of the ‘consumer’s experience’.”
The body then has power to carry out ‘enter and view’ inspections of services - specifically those funded by the NHS or local authorities.
“This is for if we have reason to believe a service is there are concerns about a service,” Ms Powell explained.
Ms Miller added: “Each will lead to a short report with recommendations for action.
“We appreciate that this programmed approach may be different from what has happened in the past.
“We felt it was important for Healthwatch Blackpool to grasp its role as independent consumer voice for health and care, and to have a user-driven programme of work.”
While most patients are aware the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is in place to oversee the operation of health services, in a similar way to how Ofsted operates with schools, Healthwatch works from a patient’s point of view.
“We’re interested in what the patients see and say,” explains the Healthwatch boss. “We view as if a patient. We speak to patients, and staff to get an overview of what it’s like to be a patient.”
The body plans to carry out one ‘enter and view’ each month, with services given prior warning and opportunity to respond to any concerns, before reporting back to the community through regular bulletins.
“While we do have powers, we want to work with services and bring about changes rather than get people’s backs up.”
The service is funded by Blackpool Council, paying for three staff - Ms Powell at the top and involvement officer Steven Robinson and Steven Garner.
Mr Robinson is charged with overseeing the work of the body’s volunteer base
“I know Healthwatch has got a lot of potential in Blackpool and that we’ll be able to make a big difference,” said Ms Powell.
Healthwatch is now seeking views from people on mental health services and from anyone who has used maternity services in the last 12 months.
n Visit: www.surveymonkey.com/r/MHJuly15 or www.surveymonkey.com/r/HWBMaternity2015
n And the body has opportunities available for volunteers, visit: http://www.empowermentcharity.org.uk/healthwatchblackpool.html