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Carol Anderson, Chief Nursing Officer on the Mid and South Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) Joint Committee, explains how the STP has revolutionised its patient engagement by introducing dedicated ‘patient partners’ who offer focused support to each of its transformation programmes.
I think it would be fair to say that, like many STPs, we initially struggled with effective patient engagement across the partnership.
Each of the partner organisations had a number of patients who wanted to be involved but often they came with their own agenda, or with a realm of experience that didn’t necessarily match the areas we needed to focus on.
While we were good at bringing people in for meetings to share information, we needed to boost the real two-way exchange of ideas. The creation of the STP felt like the perfect opportunity to directly link patient engagement to our three major transformation programmes – focused on cancer, maternity and hospital and primary care services – all of which are being delivered across the whole STP. This inspired our new role of ‘patient partner’, where volunteer patients get involved in areas of specific interest to them, and where their personal experience and stories add value for our clinical teams.
Introducing our ‘patient partners’
Our local Healthwatch was integral to our new patient engagement model. The idea of having patient partners who are aligned with each of the big transformation projects came about when we were talking to them about how we could encourage and develop more active involvement.
We were also fortunate to have some very enthusiastic patients across the STP who wanted to engage differently with us, and we worked with them to identify what patients could bring to the table. We also asked clinicians and managers what they wanted from patient involvement.
For the first time we articulated what we want from patients and developed a job description and job purpose for each of the transformation schemes. Healthwatch also provides training on what being a patient partner involves and gives people a basic grounding on the area they’ll be helping us with. We also provide clinical ‘buddies’ who patient partners can ask what they think might be silly questions that they’d rather not ask in public.
We are aiming for 100 patient partners across the STP by March 2019.
Building relationships between patient partners and clinicians
To support the clinicians, we’re running workshops on the new way of working with patient partners and breaking down barriers through meet and greet events before work begins.
One of the first things we did was to bring the patient partners in on our discussions around the money we had available for transformation, to help us prioritise the work, discussing our resources and agreeing areas for spending.
Our new way of working with patient partners, in a focused rather than generic way, is having a real benefit in bringing people in who have the relevant experience. For example, for the maternity transformation programme we’ve targeted people who have had a baby in the last five years. We’ve asked them to sign up for an 18-month project, and so far they seem to agree this level of time commitment is about right for how much and how long they want to be involved.
We’re involving our patient partners in ways that are right for each programme. For example, the maternity patient partners have been leading a survey on patient experience and going out to talk to mums and dads at children’s centres and play groups, while in the cancer transformation work stream they have either been joining workshops looking at the pathways, or reading and commenting on information as those pathways are developed. They feed back directly to the clinicians involved in the piece of work.
Sharing the learning
It was important for us to keep the existing patient groups informed of what was happening with the patient partners to ensure no-one felt excluded from the process, but understood the reasons for the targeted engagement.
The decision to work with Healthwatch was a real game changer and we couldn’t have achieved all this without them. They have helped us communicate better with people, be cleverer in how we target the right people, and make better and more innovative use of the modern communications technology that is all around us.
Healthwatch also helped us gain a level of representation which we had not managed before and supported us in developing new ways of engaging patient partners – for example by allowing them to have an input virtually, with no need to attend meetings.
We’re still at the beginning of this journey, and while introducing this new way of working with volunteers has been challenging, thanks to the hard work and dedication of staff and the patient partners we’re making it happen and reaping real benefits.