Growing public voice
Over the last year, Healthwatch staff and volunteers have worked with their communities, making sure that people’s views – particularly those of groups who are under-represented - are heard.
As a result, 341,000 people have shared their ideas about and experiences of health and social care services with their local Healthwatch this year. Their views have helped make services across England better, and demonstrated the impact that a strong public voice can have.
We have seen some truly inspirational stories of people taking action to help make a difference. There have also been some outstanding examples of services listening to what people want and using their feedback to improve care.
There are positive signs of a growing desire amongst professionals to understand and act on the views of communities. However, many services still do not understand how to achieve this consistently in practice.
The Healthwatch network is here to help. But, at a time when the NHS, social care and local Healthwatch all face funding pressures, the challenge is to make sure that the positive progress we have seen this year gathers pace.
Better mental health care
Local Healthwatch seek the views of a wide cross-section of the community, hearing from people with a broad range of needs, circumstances and views.
Whilst many areas of health and social care are in need of attention to ensure that they meet people’s needs, mental health services have stood out as a significant concern.
When mental health care goes wrong or isn’t available, it has a significant impact on people and their families. We’ve heard through the Healthwatch network that many people struggle to get a clear diagnosis and access to support. If people don’t have an understanding of their conditions or where to go for help, they can end up in a crisis situation that could have been avoided.
Local Healthwatch have heard a growing level of feedback about mental health care this year, so we’ll be working with them over the next 12 months to keep talking to people, and to encourage services to listen to people’s views.
Care that meets everyone’s needs
Although mental health care is in particular need of attention, the issues people raised about it apply to many other areas of health and social care. People are calling for clear and timely diagnoses, access to the right support at the right time, and a more personalised service across the board.
With an ageing population and the growing prevalence of long-term conditions, many of which can be triggered or made worse by lifestyle choices, our services are under increasing pressure. To keep people as well as possible, and using the care available appropriately, services need to listen to people’s experiences and tailor care accordingly.
The views that people have shared with us over the last year highlight the variation that can exist in people’s experiences of individual services. They also demonstrate that people working in health and social care don’t always work together as well as they could, making it difficult for people to get the support they need.
The changes to health and social care services currently taking place aim to address many of these issues. However, many people are yet to see the positive outcomes these reforms are designed to deliver.
Time to listen
The best services know their customers. They listen to what they like and what could be better, and they make changes where they’re needed. Although we have seen progress when it comes to services understanding and acting upon what people want, there is still a long way to go before this is commonplace.
Our research shows that most people are willing to share their views to help improve services, but they need to know how they can speak up and professionals must be willing to listen.
This is why we will continue to raise awareness of how people can have their say and encourage services to act on their users’ views.