Healthwatch network visits to local services increase by 300%

In the last 12 months local Healthwatch have been out in their communities putting on engagement events in libraries and supermarkets, visiting health and care facilities and running public surveys

Collectively they have spoken with / heard from an estimated 300,000 patients, care users and members of the public and have conducted more than 600 formal ‘Enter & View’ visits to hospitals, GPs and care homes. This is a 300 per cent increase on the previous year.

Nine out of ten local Healthwatch report that providers and commissioners are now starting to take on board the wealth of evidence they have collected and are not just listening to but also acting on their recommendations on a range of issues – from addressing physical access issues for those with disabilities to ensuring patient’s discharge plans are being properly discussed.

For example, Healthwatch Barnet have conducted 30 ‘Enter and View’ visits this year to ask care home residents about their experiences, with 87 per cent of providers taking action on at least one user led recommendation and a third of providers taking action on five or more. Points raised included poor signage in care homes which make them disorienting places, as well as issues with access to information about how to complain about poor quality care.

In other areas like Blackburn, Bradford and Redbridge, local Healthwatch have been training volunteers from seldom heard groups such as those with learning disabilities and members of the deaf community to assess patient experience from their point of view – highlighting problems previously going unnoticed.

This activity has in places uncovered shocking treatment of patients, including:

  • One elderly patient in a London hospital who was left to sit in their own waste in their hospital bed as staff were too busy to change a repeatedly overflowing colostomy bag.
  • A gentleman in Cumbria took two years to get a referral from his GP for cancer, despite presenting repeatedly with three or more symptoms. The delay to his treatment has significantly reduced his long term prospects.
  • A mental health crisis patient was also told by the 24 hour helpline to “read a book or something” until the morning when her records could be accessed and the team could deal with her.

However, the majority of what local Healthwatch found relates to how the NHS and care services can improve basic consumer experience.

Common issues that came up were:

  • Poor access to interpreter services
  • Call bells being put out of the reach of patients and care users
  • Poor signage in waiting rooms at A&E and walk-in centres
  • Difficulty accessing patient transport services
  • Hospital parking charges
  • Poor communication with patients around diagnosis

Local Healthwatch have been sharing their findings with local providers and commissioners, and have been using their seats on local health and wellbeing boards and overview and scrutiny committees to challenge them to respond.

This has resulted in numerous changes at local level, particularly around increased training for staff, improved information for patients on how to access certain support and agreements to review policies. Crucially the evidence collected by local Healthwatch is also starting to inform the work of the CQC, helping inspection teams to target and prioritise which services to inspect next.

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