Patients can play a key role in improving services

NHS England South’s Regional Medical Director explains the importance of its new Leading Together programme:

The NHS is constantly working to deliver health services which are safe, effective and provide a good experience of care.

At some stage in our lives almost all of us will have cause to see a doctor – in our local general practice or in a hospital setting – and want to be sure that our doctors meet the high standards we expect. Every year doctors undergo an appraisal process, which allows them to demonstrate they are up to date and providing care for patients that is of high quality.

Our ambition, in line with the NHS Constitution and the NHS Five Year Forward View, is for patients and the public to be at the heart of everything we do. That is why we are asking patients, carers and the public to bring their valuable experience, insight and a fresh perspective to doctors’ appraisal process. In doing so, it helps us to understand and respond to what patients need and see things through their eyes.

Ultimately, it helps us improve care and innovate, and gives people the opportunity to contribute to and influence healthcare in their local area.

We recognise that this might seem daunting, but the Leading Together programme has recently been launched in the South of England to help patients or members of the public become involved in improving health services, ensuring they are truly accessible to all and meet the needs of the people that use them.

The programme links a patient leader, or an aspiring patient leader, with a healthcare leader: this could be a doctor, nurse, researcher or manager. You do not need to be an existing lay member either. All we are asking is you have an interest in healthcare and some previous leadership experience; maybe you have led on work for a local charity, or perhaps you’re in college and have set up a society or newsletter.

Training and support is provided before each pair works together to put the learning into action with a project that benefits their local healthcare organisation or community, but it’s not the kind of programme where you will sit back listening to people telling you what to do.

We will be inviting everyone on the programme to think and talk about the concepts, try out some skills and reflect on your experience. Perhaps the most important part of the programme though is the togetherness: exploring how patient leaders and healthcare leaders can collaborate, understanding of one another’s needs and developing partnerships for the future so pairs continue to work and lead together once they have been through the workshops and project. In fact this togetherness cuts across all aspects of the programme: it has been co-designed with lay people involved in healthcare.

We strongly believe that through the Leading Together programme the involvement of patients and members of the public, working together with healthcare leaders, will help to improve our health services, and the quality of care provided by our doctors.


Nigel Acheson

Nigel Acheson is Regional Medical Director and Higher Level Responsible Officer for the South Region of NHS England. With a population of 13.4 million, the Region stretches from Cornwall to Kent and includes the cities of Bristol, Oxford and Southampton.

Born in Belfast, Nigel trained in Birmingham and was appointed as a consultant gynaecological oncologist in 2002, moving to the Royal Devon and Exeter (RD&E) Hospital in Exeter to help develop the Gynaecological Cancer Centre there and learn to sail.

From his time as a National Advisor and Clinical Lead to the Department of Health’s Enhanced Recovery Partnership Programme, Nigel actively promotes the involvement of patients as partners in their care. Whilst Medical Director for the Peninsula Cancer Network in the South West of England, Nigel helped to re-establish the patient and public group with the chair and vice-chair becoming members of the network Board.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Kassander says:

    Patients can play a key role in improving services – Nigel Acheson
    10 March 2016 – 20:52

    ”The programme links a patient leader, or an aspiring patient leader, ​…..​. All we are asking is you have an interest in healthcare and some previous leadership experience; …”
    ​So one has to be a leader already to be a patient leader. But every other organisation that is looking for leaders needs one to have b​een a leader.
    Unless one has been to a school where leaders are anointed,. then there’s no hope for the ordinary person – is there?

  2. Kassander says:

    ”The programme links a patient leader, or an aspiring patient leader, … All we are asking is you have an interest in healthcare and some previous leadership experience; … ”
    Ah – so to be :
    ”a patient leader, or an aspiring patient leader”
    one has to have already been a leader.
    And if other organisations take the same pathway, then only those who somehow have been designated as leaders some time in the past, for example at the type of school which trains ‘leaders’, will be able to be leaders in the NHS.
    The NHS belongs to us all, but to some more than others?
    Hail to our Leaders.

    • Carol Munt says:

      I am Co-Chair of the Patient Experience Operational Group who are behind the concept of this Leading Together programme. Two of us as Patient Leaders were clear that we wanted people with some experience to come forward.
      I don’t think that unreasonable and as a matter of interest this isn’t about being an academic it’s about having a desire to work with the Health Service to keep the Patient at the Heart of all decisions.
      I think this quote sums it up “I don’t think you can really teach someone to be a Patient Leader – but you can give that person with a passion to make change a toolkit to help them do it. That’s what we do on our course.”

  3. Mark Duman says:

    Pls tell me more! How can I help – if I didn’t scare you off at last week’s FMLM event 😉