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It’s National Patient Participation Awareness Week (31 May – 6 June 2021), so what is patient participation and why is it important?
Dr Phil Hammond, GP turned hospital doctor, journalist and broadcaster supporting Patient Participation Awareness Week said:
“Patients and carers are the smoke alarms for the frontline of the NHS. They are often first to spot poor care and also have great ideas about how to make care better. They need to be involved in decisions not just about their care, but in designing better care for others. Patient Participation Groups are a crucial way of harnessing the voice of the patient in primary care, and have much to contribute in driving up quality”
What is patient participation?
Patient participation occurs when patients actively take part in healthcare. This may include helping to shape person-centred integrated care, involvement in reviews of health inequality, taking part in research, working alongside healthcare providers and commissioners to design service improvements, or simply giving feedback on their experience.
How does it fit with CQC regulation?
The CQC have just launched their new strategy and want people to have more control in their care, motivate them to encourage services to improve, and empower them to drive change. One of the four themes in the new strategy is people and communities, with service provision and delivery that’s driven by people’s needs and experiences, focusing on what’s important to people and communities when they access, use and move between services.
Why is patient participation important?
The CQC recognises that people need to see how their voice can make a difference to the safety and quality of the services they use, so inspectors want to see and hear both positive and negative experiences.
Feedback is vitally important in order to build trust and motivate people to share what is important to them. However, people are often afraid to speak up, so there needs to be a culture among the public, healthcare providers, and all other partners that welcomes, values and acts on feedback.
Why should we encourage patient engagement?
It’s understandable that every Practice wants to see and hear only positive reviews and comments about their staff and services, but the best way to receive any feedback is to listen and actually hear what is being said.
Negative feedback isn’t always easy to deal with, it’s much nicer dealing with compliments. However, even if feedback is negative, patients are engaging with you. If they didn’t care, or it didn’t matter, they wouldn’t bother. Also, the fact that people leave negative feedback doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in the wrong. But if you are wrong, you’ve been handed a golden opportunity to get it right next time.
The secret is to assess the problem and look at ways in which to improve, and this can be done collaboratively and proactively with patient participation groups. They are an extension of the care you provide to the community and can help you meet the individual needs of your patients, so it’s really important to encourage them to work with you rather than against you.
What is a patient participation group?
Firstly, a Patient Participation Group (PPG) is a group of patients, carers and GP Practice staff who meet to discuss Practice issues and patient experience to help improve the service. Since April 2015, it’s been a contractual requirement of NHS England for all GP practices to have a PPG and to make reasonable efforts for this to be representative of the Practice population.
A PPG gives Practice staff and patients the opportunity to, where possible:
- Meet regularly and discuss topics of mutual interest
- Provide a means for patients to become more involved and make suggestions about the healthcare services they receive
- Make positive suggestions about the Practice, including exploring themes from patient complaints and feedback from patient surveys
- Offer a patient’s view on the National Patient Survey results and Friends and Family Test feedback to propose developments or change
- Contribute to Practice action plans, where necessary, and help monitor improvements
- Support health awareness and patient education
- Be an advocate for patient preferences when appropriate
What are the benefits of having a PPG?
Benefits for the patient
Patients will be more responsible for their own health and have an opportunity for a better understanding and knowledge of the Practice and its staff. Patients will have a forum to suggest positive ideas and voice concerns and will benefit from improved communications between patients and staff.
Benefits for the Practice
The Practice can plan services jointly with patients in order to increase their effectiveness and get help from patients in meeting local targets and objectives. The Practice will have a platform to voice issues, ideas and suggestions to patients and become closer to the local community they care for.
What does a PPG look like since the pandemic?
In March 2020, as a direct result of the COVID-19 restrictions, NHS England instructed Practices to establish a remote ‘total triage’ model in general practice and minimise the amount of non-urgent face to face contact with patients. This had a knock on effect on PPG meetings, which were usually face to face. However, after the initial demands that Practices had to deal with in managing the effects of the pandemic, this was a perfect opportunity to introduce a virtual PPG.
A virtual PPG can take place by video (using Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Skype), or by using social media or email to communicate to a wider range of patients. As long as you’re engaging with patients in some way, you can show that you are trying to promote a stronger safety culture, prioritising learning and improvement and collaborating to value everyone’s perspectives.
Top Tips for GP Practices
- Advertise your PPG and how patients can communicate and engage with the Practice, especially online
- Create a PPG page on your website to inform patients how they can contribute in a meaningful way
- Establish a PPG which represents the diversity of your patient population, ensuring everyone can be included
- Make contact with your local Healthwatch to assist with setting up or running your PPG
- Share learning and actions with your PPG, such as audit results, CQC reports, anonymised patient feedback, etc.
- Establish a culture of openness and transparency – explain what action you have taken as a result of feedback, and explain how this has changed or improved quality
By encouraging patients to share their experience and views in an open and constructive way, not only should it improve patient care, but handled in the right way it could also reduce the number of complaints and negative feedback because they feel listened to.
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