Healthwatch: Long-term plan is just the start

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 2019

National director of Healthwatch England, Imelda Redmond CBE, looks ahead to the future of the health service as the long-term plan takes effect, and outlines what her organisation has done, and is doing, to engage local health workers and patients alike.

The NHS Long-Term Plan, and the increased financial investment being made in the NHS, are a very welcome start to the New Year.

What’s also welcome is the extent to which the NHS has taken on board the views and experiences of its users as they have developed the plan.

People’s voices can be an immensely powerful way of creating improvements in health and social care, when they are listened to – that’s why the Healthwatch network is here. We actively seek people’s stories and ideas to find out what people want to see done differently. Indeed, over the development of the plan, we shared the views and experiences of over 85,000 people with NHS England to help shape their thinking.

We were therefore pleased to see the plan directly address so many of the issues, both big and small, that the public have been raising with us.

Joined-up care

In particular, it’s positive to see the emphasis on primary care and how technology will be used to make it easier for people to see a GP. It was also encouraging to see the plan talk about greater support for people living in care homes to reduce the number of emergency admissions to hospital. 

The commitment to more joined-up care in the community is also an important step. In the thousands of conversations we have with people across the country, they have highlighted the importance of services working together to provide people with a seamless experience of care. Nowhere is this more important than at the transition between hospital and home, where services need to help each other to get people home quickly and safely, and help them stay out of hospital.  

Mental health

In recent years we have seen the NHS place growing emphasis on mental health, responding to people’s growing desire to see parity with physical health. Whilst this is positive, in our contribution to the plan we challenged NHS England to be even more ambitious, particularly when it comes to support for children and young people. It is therefore great to see them aiming to reach 100% of young people who need specialist support by the end of the next decade.

With the national plan now in place, the focus moves on to how the priorities will be translated into action at a local level.

Local engagement

As those working in health and social care know well, every area has diverse health needs and each community will have a unique way of interacting with services. It is therefore important that local communities have the ability to shape and inform the implementation of the long-term plan where they live.

Across the country, communities will now come together with those running local hospitals and doctors’ surgeries to work out how this national plan is going to work in their area.

In December, it was announced that Healthwatch has been commissioned by NHS England and NHS Improvement to support this next phase of the plan by conducting local engagement activity in every part of England. With a network of 152 local organisations, supported by more than 5,000 volunteers, we have a unique reach into communities up and down the country, which over the last five years has helped us hear from over 1.4 million people.

The investment from the NHS in this engagement exercise is recognition of our ability to bring significant and independent insight into the planning processes at a regional and local level, and how this will be of real value to the local plans. It is also recognition of how key it is to the success of the long-term plan that communities are involved.

We are currently in the process of appointing 42 lead local Healthwatch, mapped to the STP/ICS footprints, who will be responsible for coordinating engagement activity and reporting back on their findings. These Healthwatch will be working in partnership with their local system leaders to jointly set the priority for engagement activities and to ensure the insight gathered is both heard and addressed as they pull together their local plans. 

We all know the health and social care sector faces big challenges, and even with the direction now set by the plan, the resources for delivering it will continue to be tight. It has never been more important to make sure that any changes introduced will actually work for people.

Listening to people and using their insight to inform decisions and track performance, therefore, needs to become an integral part of the DNA of health and care in England.


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