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Pushing patient engagement forward

As we approach the next election, Dr Brian Fisher challenges GPs to take part in a national debate about making the NHS more accountable to the public.

As we approach the next election, Dr Brian Fisher challenges GPs to take part in a national debate about making the NHS more accountable to the public.

As a GP, I know that putting the patient at the heart of everything I do will not only bring better outcomes for individuals, but also for the NHS as a whole.

We need to involve patients and the public in all aspects of our work – planning new services, monitoring existing ones, managing practices and hospitals and the patient's care in a consultation.

We know that it's the right thing to do and evidence shows that, if we involve patients in their care, we get better outcomes and NHS services tend to be used less. So it is a win-win situation. Patients get better care and the NHS saves money in the process.

However, involving patients and the public is easier said than done. There are many ways through which we can engage patients and the public at both collective and individual levels. And many primary care trusts, practice-based groups and practices are doing this brilliantly right now.

But doing this well and consistently requires different structures or new ways of working at different levels in the NHS. There is no one-size-fits all. So as the lead for the NHS Alliance on this, I decided that a national debate was needed and we launched the ‘Whose NHS is it Anyway' online debate in October.

We also published a document ‘Whose NHS is it Anyway?', which offers a number of possible ways forward at different levels in the NHS to make patient and public engagement more effective.

We all do things in a different way with more or less success and it's about time we shared our experiences and created innovative and effective ways to involve patients and the public across the NHS.

Although many people have been heavily involved, we need more. I know that there are many GPs and practices out there doing a fantastic job and others struggling to get buy-in from their patients; we want to hear from them.

In the debate, we are asking questions about accountability, elections, the role of local authorities and how to manage tensions. Everybody's views count and when the debate is over, the NHS Alliance will collate your replies and publish a set of recommendations that will set the scene for debates on PPI for next year's general election. So it won't be just a talk shop, but a real opportunity for people to have their views heard.

As any busy GP practice can tell, it's not easy to juggle everything and although we all recognise that engaging patients and the public is the way forward, we also want more effective and perhaps easier ways of doing so. And, at the end of the day, how can we convince our patients that it is important to get involved if we are not willing to give time and thought to that ourselves?

To share your views and experiences, click here.

Dr Brian Fisher is national public and patient involvement lead at the NHS Alliance and a GP in Lewisham

Patient engagement

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