Ruth Jays, Director, Healthcare Improvement Scotland – Community Engagement, wants the public to make their voices known when it comes to their health and care.
HIS-Community Engagement’s purpose is to promote the involvement and participation of people in the development and delivery of health and social care services.
And there has never been a more important time to engage.
HIS-Community Engagement is the operational and delivery arm of the Scottish Health Council and we relaunched in April 2020. We had plans for a bells and whistles relaunch – but the red carpet had to be rolled up due to COVID- 19.
We have continued to support and promote community engagement throughout the last two years, with the lifting of the emergency footing on NHS Scotland. As an organisation, we are now ramping up our work to ensure that the voices of all communities across Scotland play a role in shaping health and social care services.
Arguably, since the pandemic we now have a more health literate population than ever before, a public who are more engaged in their healthcare and have a new-found respect for the NHS and staff, as well as an understanding of the tough operating environment and a willingness to help support it.
The public has seen what has happened when they haven’t had a say in how their healthcare is delivered – whether that was not being able to be with a loved one in hospital or not being able to access their GP in the way that they would want.
And we know now that the impact of COVID will reverberate for years to come and has thrown into sharp relief the health inequalities already in Scotland.
We need to capitalise on all of this and ensure the voices of diverse communities across Scotland are harnessed in shaping the NHS as it emerges from the pandemic.
The way healthcare is designed and delivered has changed over the past two years, and will continue to change as the NHS recovers and responds to emerging challenges. It’s vital that the public’s views are taken into account. But why? Understanding the views of a wide range of people and using these to shape and develop services is absolutely critical to creating and delivering person-centred health and care services. Without doing so, you run the risk of developing services which don’t meet the needs of the populations they serve.
Without engaging with people, you cannot know what the impact of something is. We’ve all seen examples – and experienced them ourselves – of when engagement hasn’t happened or when it has been limited, and the negative impact this can have. Engagement isn’t a “nice to do” – it is a “must-do” – failing to involve people in the development of services leads to poorer health outcomes and can widen health inequalities. This has never been more important than in the period ahead. As we move out of the pandemic and start grappling with the cost of living crisis, the most disproportionate impact will be felt on those who are already most at risk.
Engagement ensures health and social care services are person-centred and deliver the best possible care and support for people and communities.
Engagement can seem like another ask of our already stretched health and care services. But engaging with communities has never been more important, and our team are skilled and experienced in supporting engagement. We are here to help!
We use a variety of tools and techniques, and are always testing new ways of engaging people. We provide expert advice and signposting to our stakeholders on the most successful ways to achieve meaningful engagement with people and communities.
Over the last two years we have developed the use of tools such as our Citizens’ Panel and Gathering Views exercises which have been used to capture feedback from the public – including seldom-heard groups – on important issues including accessing urgent care, priorities for future healthcare and the development of services for people living with ME and chronic fatigue.
HIS-Community Engagement has staff based in every territorial NHS board across Scotland. This means we have excellent links into local communities which is invaluable in terms of promoting and supporting engagement.
Working virtually has brought huge benefits for us in terms of better communication across our teams based across the country. And we have used this learning to adapt how we engage with communities.
Everyone has had to adapt their lives and the way they work over the past two years. This also meant we had to adapt how we engaged with communities and how we supported our stakeholders to do so. This resulted in some really innovative engagement methods and benefits for communities, especially in remote and rural areas. We will continue to use these going forward. We also ensure that in doing so we don’t create further inequalities – we are mindful that not everyone has access to digital technologies.
The current context we are living in – characterised by the four Cs – Covid, conflict, climate and cost of living, presents huge challenges for all of us working in health and social care. We have adapted our ways of working to continue to provide excellent support to engaging people and communities during the pandemic, and will be adapting our ways of working again to ensure we take account of the current context.
One of the programmes I am most proud of being involved in is the “What Matters to You?” movement, which HIS-CE co-ordinates. WMTY is a way of unlocking a person-centred approach to care and it never fails to amaze me that such a simple question can have such a transformational effect on care. “What Matters to You?” is what we need to ask of our communities when we are designing and delivering services.
So if you are involved in work to change how health and social care services are being delivered, please get in touch with us.
Find out more about the work of HIS-Community Engagement by visiting our website.