The next year or so in the NHS is going to be as challenging as it ever has been. Gone are the days of year-on-year budget increases. We are in a period of reduced budgets as the NHS looks to save £20bn by 2015 and increased demand due to an aging population. At the same time the NHS is expected not only to sustain the quality of its services but improve them.
This leads to one course of action – the redesign of services to ensure they are cost effective and meet the changing demands of the people who need them.
This is understood throughout the industry. Care has been moving out of hospitals and closer to people’s homes for some time because it improves patient outcomes and is cheaper. However, the pace at which services will have to change is going to increase dramatically and this will put a greater spotlight on how service redesign is managed, more so than ever before.
Richard Vize’s recent article about Whittington Hospital, in Guardian Professional, was a timely reminder to all NHS organisations getting ready to redesign services of the importance of good communications and engagement during the process.
What is worrying about the article is the fact that this is not going to be a ‘one-off’. Similar processes are being undertaken across the NHS in England. The NHS needs to change and change quickly if it is ever going to be able to ensure patients and the wider public understand and accept the changes that are so desperately needed.
The first steps to better patient involvement in service redesign
It is no longer acceptable for people to be informed of changes after they are signed, sealed and about to be delivered. Although keeping it quiet might seem like a good idea to some at the start of the process, it invariably leads to a lot more work to bring key stakeholders around to your point of view, if you ever can. It also increases the chance of reputational damage.
There is light at the end of the service redesign tunnel and it’s not a secret. Unbelievable as it may seem, involving key stakeholders and the patients that use the service from the start improves outcomes. There are some good examples of this happening across the NHS already.
The insight of people who use the service will be the most valuable you receive when redesigning your service. But don’t just engage a select few who are willing to attend a meeting. The online world is fantastic for harnessing opinion from a wider range of people and you can target the audiences that will help you develop your plans. This is happening in many other industries and it should be no different for the NHS.
By involving the right people at the beginning you will start to build ambassadors for the change or at least help people understand the changes, even if they aren’t fully behind them. This is a much better starting point than reacting to a ‘save our hospital’ group who feel disenfranchised by the lack of consultation.
The rest is simple communications and engagement. Ensure you understand how different groups want to receive information and make sure the information is disseminated in a timely fashion. Be part of online conversations about the changes but don’t try to control them. Organic, stakeholder-led conversations will ensure people are more engaged.
Don’t get me wrong, the NHS is starting from a very difficult position. We live in an era whereby everybody has a stake in ‘their’ NHS and the majority do not like the idea of their local hospital reducing services or bed numbers it provides. However, the NHS cannot expect people to understand the need for change if they aren’t a part of the process.
The age old district general hospital model of care is no longer the best way to serve local communities and everybody in the NHS knows this. It is now the NHS’s responsibility to engage with local communities so they start to understand it too.
What are your thoughts? Have you any good examples of patients being fully involved in service redesign projects from the start?
If you want to learn more about best practice service redesign communications and engagement, please get in touch.