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A member of the NHS Youth Forum explains why listening to the views of young people is crucial to shaping the National Health Service:
I am a founder of a new charity that aims to combat isolation and loneliness amongst young people with cancer. I’m a cancer survivor, so this work means a great deal to me.
But close to my heart, there’s also my “NHS work”. I’m a member of the NHS Youth Forum, and a Youth Advisor to the senior leaders of the health system.
As a group we promote the principles of co-design, making sure young voices are heard during the development, creation and implementation of services. I’m very passionate about young people’s involvement being felt throughout the delivery of relevant care that impacts them.
The opportunity to work with the NHS has changed my life. I get to work with the most incredible team of people; young people and dedicated staff who encourage better ways of working among NHS senior leaders. I’m humbled to see how this ultimately leads to health services that work better for young people.
Just like the thousands of youth volunteers out there, I am proud to give my time to help the NHS. I really believe the work we do is important, but I get the feeling that others just don’t see it that way. Questions can range from asking what difference it makes to why I focus on young people.
We are 25% of the population in England. A 2016 report by the Association of Young People’s Health highlighted that in England, 40% of all primary care activity relates to a youth demographic, 15% of which have a long-term condition, 6% have a disability and 700,000 are young carers.
A recent study by the University of Leeds suggests that the proportion of black, Asian and other ethnic minorities will rise from 8% of the population to 20% by 2051, a significant number of which will be young people.
Therefore, listening to their views and opening up conversations all the way to the most senior level is crucial to enable the NHS to always respond to the needs of everyone using it.
Two weeks ago, I was invited to the Health and Care Innovation Expo, the largest NHS event of the year. I had the honour of opening the event and introducing the chair of NHS England, Lord David Prior. It was an incredible experience. Even though it was my first Expo, there was an undeniable feeling that young voices were being listened to in a way they haven’t been before.
A week later, I was involved in a meeting with Lord Prior, Prerana Issar, Chief People Officer, Yvonne Coghill, Director of WRES Implementation, and Habib Naqvi, Deputy Director of WRES Implementation as well as passionate supporters of youth participation – Olivia Butterworth, Head of Public Participation and Emma Easton, Head of Voluntary Partnerships. I presented with Gabrielle Matthews and Dom Smithies, two dedicated members of the Youth Forum. This was a real opportunity for NHS leaders to understand the youth perspective on health services.
Unlike other national and international medical conferences, my work within the NHS has never left me feeling like a ‘token’ young person, or a half-hearted nod to youth participation. Events such as the Youth Voice Summit and my meetings with senior leaders are both examples of how the NHS gets it right – but it shouldn’t be a special occasion. This should be business as usual. Young people have a right to a seat at the table.
The NHS is a global leader in youth participation, but it’s key that we work to keep that title. It is vital that we build on what we already have. It’s not just about policy, procedures or processes. It’s also acknowledging stories, experience and shifting the culture towards a more inclusive, co-productive way of working.
When the very top of the organisation work with youth, it creates an air of permission. It encourages others to think that youth participation is the way forward. It inspires thousands of other leaders with the confidence to involve young people. These last two weeks have filled me with hope that there are people within this vast machinery working hard to make the NHS work for everyone. My wish is that the seldom heard young people know that they are being listened to.
Simply put: This is the start. We’re ready. Get us involved.