Creating a people powered NHS

The Director for Experience, Participation and Equalities at NHS England marks the launch of the Engagement Practitioners Network:

One of the things I most enjoy is seeing people use their lived experience to change the design or delivery of a new piece of work.

Often, when people come together, you see creative sparks as those who use and run services learn from each other and come up with powerful ideas to improve care. Often these are simpler and cheaper to implement than many of us expected.

Listening to local communities, co-producing services, having service users involved in decision making and priority setting is absolutely vital to an NHS that really works. Without true involvement of the people that we serve, we will not be delivering what is genuinely needed.

‘Involving patients’ as a concept has been around for many years, and indeed we have increasingly seen a move away from the tokenistic involvement of patients on a single committee to a wide range of more effective and meaningful ways of reaching out and working collaboratively with communities.

The NHS Long-Term Plan describes ambitious changes to ensure that we meet health and care needs in the future.  Integrated working across systems, local health services working much more coherently together, delivering what local communities need, and this need will be different for different communities; what works in Whitby will be different for what works in Warrington. We simply cannot deliver on this vision if a genuine partnership with local communities isn’t there.

As part of the work that I do, I am lucky enough to visit many different health care services up and down the country and to meet lots passionate people who are involved in those services. I meet up with patients, carers, clinicians and many other staff. Whatever their focus, the one thing all of them have in common is a passion to be part of the very best and most effective health care possible, enabling us all to be well and happy.

Sometimes, however, people with the skills, drive and passion to engage and involve others and spark genuine co-creation feel isolated and in need of support.  Connecting with others, learning from each other, building skills, confidence and ideas together is fundamental. As human beings we gain so much more than ‘professional development’ from this connection.

Radical ideas, new partnership approaches, changing power dynamics and creative ways of working are all out there, happening already.  Successful approaches, risks that have paid off are there to learn from and build on.

Making those connections and building those skills can take time, so I am pleased to launch our new national Engagement Practitioners Network.  A peer led space with learning and sharing opportunities to help us all be that bit more radical in our work.

To learn more about the network visit the NHS England Public Engagement Practitioners Network webpage or email

Dr Neil Churchill

Neil is Director for People and Communities at NHS England, having joined the NHS after a 25-year career in the voluntary sector. His work includes understanding people’s experiences of the NHS, involving people and communities in decision-making and leading change to improve the quality and equality of care. He has a particular focus on strengthening partnerships with unpaid carers, volunteers and the voluntary sector.

Neil has previously been a non-executive director for the NHS in the South of England, is a member of the Strategy Board for the Beryl Institute and Chair of Care for the Carers in East Sussex. He is himself an unpaid carer. Neil tweets as @neilgchurchill

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