To be young again

The HSJ Patient Leadership Awards have recognised the NHS Youth Forum. This is why it is so important:  

#Hellomyname is Kath Evans and I’m Head of Patient Experience for Maternity, Children and Young People at NHS England. #whatmatterstome is a partnership between the public and health care professionals to improve healthcare experiences for all.

Throughout my 27-year career in the NHS I’ve seen that, when effective partnerships are nurtured not only in direct care but indirectly in the design and delivery of services, we get great results.

For this to happen we need people inside the NHS who believe in this culture of working, and members of the public who want to and have capacity to get involved to lead and collaborate. This combination of internal and external agents for change creates phenomenal energy and has significant impact.

Over the past two years we’ve seen the NHS Youth Forum flourish. The NHS Youth Forum works with NHS England, Public Health England and the Department of Health to challenge and feed in ideas and solutions regarding heath care and services.

It’s a model that’s unique; no other country in the world that we know of has a group of young people influencing health care services in such a way at a national level. It’s a model that’s evolved with young people and their leadership has acted as a beacon, confirmed by the University of Hertfordshire which has published an evaluation of their impact.

We launched the NHS Youth Forum in March 2014, thanks to the support of the British Youth Council, our partners, who also believed we could and should do things differently to engage young people in the NHS and to amplify the voice of 15 million under 20-year-olds across England.

We’re now onto our second cohort; 25 young people from across the country who come from a range of backgrounds and also link into services locally and regionally. These young people work with us to move us beyond our comfort zones.

At the NHS Youth Forum residential in June, the young people identified, however, that there are worries in being seen as leaders. They challenge themselves with: ‘Will I have an impact?’ ‘Will I make a difference?’ ‘Will my voice be heard and valued?’ ‘Will resources or lack of them get in the way?’ ‘Will this work be sustained?’

Reflecting on all these concerns, these are the concerns of health and care professionals too! When young people were asked about what they are looking forward to on their leadership journey with the NHS they highlighted ‘making an impact’, ‘making connections and influencing’, ‘building a community’ and ‘personal development and growth’. Again, all these reflections will resonate with health and care professionals.

There are two specific programmes of work that the NHS Youth Forum will focus on in the year ahead: smoothing the transition to and retention of young people within adult services and championing awareness of 700,000 young carers who support families to ensure that children and young people get the support they need whilst supporting others.

They are also planning to continue championing for personalised care with effective communication, to amplify the youth voice locally as well as nationally and want to ensure they create a legacy of improvement for other young people using NHS services.

Again health and care professionals will identify with championing personalisation of care, ensuring everyone has a voice, is respected, and that their contribution will deliver a legacy.

The young people of the NHS Youth Forum have an amazing set of skills. They coach, build on goodwill, they generate enthusiasm, they say ‘we’, they fix breakdowns in communication, show how it can be done, invest in developing other young people and health and care professionals, they give credit, ask, and they say ‘lets go’ with such passion it’s hard to not be infected by their enthusiasm!

What the young people in their leadership roles don’t do is depend on authority and perhaps one of their greatest tools is digital engagement, using social media with the NHS Youth Forum Facebook page and Twitter account. You can follow them on @NHSYouthForum.

They cut through the hierarchy and make connections with other children, young people, families and health care professionals alike.

The NHS Youth Forum members are role models for health and care professionals. Many of them have faced extensive challenges relating to their or their family’s health but, rather than keep these challenges to themselves, they’ve used them to improve care for others.

As health and care professionals we’ve had the privilege, too, of seeing the confidence of young people that we’ve worked with grow and know that these leadership skills will continue to mature as they move through life.

The NHS Youth Forum has outstanding leaders promoting health and, vitally, are connected within their local communities. As we’re all aware health isn’t just about hospitals and GP practices. They influence health discussions in schools, youth centres and across generations too.

Young people have perspectives and ideas that are changing the way we do things. They are true leaders, always learning, asking how we can do things better, willing to share their energy for change and their challenge to health and care professionals is consistently: “How are you engaging with young people locally and what difference is it making?…..”

….Please do tweet them your response!

Kath Evans

Kath Evans, RGN, RSCN, MSc (Nursing), PG Dip (Education), BSc (Hons), PG Dip (Management), Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) Accredited Coach, is NHS England’s Experience of Care Lead – Maternity, Infants, Children and Young People.

She is a registered general and children’s nurse and her career has included clinical, educational, managerial and service improvement roles.

She is committed to ensuring the voices of children, young people, families/carers and maternity service users are heard in their care and in the design, delivery and commissioning of services.

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