The NHS in Surrey, in partnership with the local council, developed a plan that would improve the health and wellbeing of local people and the support delivered by services.
From the beginning they decided they wanted an approach that was driven by the needs and wants of the community.
To ensure that this happened, Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership worked closely with Healthwatch Surrey to recruit seven ‘Citizen Ambassadors’ like me, to sit on the boards that would oversee the new programmes of work.
There are seven Citizen Ambassadors that have been assigned to a different area of focus for Surrey Heartlands: Cancer, Women & Children, Mental Health, Out-of-Hospital, Cardiovascular, Musculoskeletal and Digital.
What is a Citizen Ambassador?
A Citizen Ambassador reaches out to members of the public to talk about any issues they have with their health and social care or to highlight areas of care that worked well.
My focus is cancer patients. Having experienced this journey first-hand with my husband, I understand the difficulties faced at different times, and how hard they can be to overcome - who do you ask?
Essentially, I gather people's experiences and pass them to Healthwatch Surrey to collate.
While most people tell me cancer care they receive is good, there is always a but.
One thing that people often talk about negatively is the transport. No one chooses to be ill, no one chooses to have cancer and yet the cost involved in transport every week when they need regular appointments, is rarely considered. Those that don't have their own transport have to rely on hospital transport. One lady I spoke to had an appointment for radiotherapy at half past 9, and she didn't get picked up until nearly 5. That is a problem.
The second most common piece of feedback would be waiting times. It might be that the original appointment is scheduled for 11, however they aren't seen until 12. People find it hard to understand why this is a continuous occurrence.
Sharing information with those who have the power to make change happen
I tell what people have told me to Healthwatch Surrey, to collate. When I go to cancer board meetings, I can take a look at the agenda and ask Healthwatch Surrey if there are any particular issues that need to be raised based on what people have told us.
Unless you tell us your views, how can we change things for the future?
Quite often I do find that people don't see the point in speaking up, my husband included! They don’t think change will happen, but people have to be heard for changes to be made. That’s why I am so passionate about this work.
It could be the smallest thing. Many people often say 'no, it's fine' but if you ask them to think of anything at all, 9 times out of 10, people can always think of something.
I've found that people often won't complain about an issue if they deem it to be either very small or very big.
Award winning work
This year's Healthwatch Network Awards celebrated the successful engagement and partnership working of the Citizen Ambassador programme, with Surrey Heartlands Care Partnership coming top of their category, as nominated by Healthwatch Surrey.