Imelda Redmond is the National Director of Healthwatch England, the consumer champion for health and social care. Following the recent Healthwatch England Report, which looked at the experiences of people who receive care delivered within their homes, Care Talk caught up with Imelda and asked her about her thoughts around this and how the sector can come together to tackle the challenges ahead.
People’s voices can be an immensely powerful way of creating improvements in health and social care, when they are listened to. That’s why the Healthwatch network is here. We actively seek people’s views and experiences and analyse them to find out what people want to see done differently. Collectively there are 152 local Healthwatch across the country, each working to give their communities a stronger voice to influence and challenge how health and social care services are provided.
I started as National Director of Healthwatch England in January of this year and I have been impressed at both the quality and quantity of what local Healthwatch have been doing up and down the country. I have been particularly impressed with the emphasis that so many put on amplifying the voices of people who are often not heard in the health and care system.
For example, in Hackney, the team ran a project looking at the health and wellbeing of sex workers. Their final report helped to highlight the barriers sex workers face when accessing health and care services, but it also identified the sort of support that has made a difference for a group who often find themselves in vulnerable circumstances. Elsewhere we have seen Healthwatch Norfolk work in collaboration with over 100 local partners on their Veterans Project. Using patient stories they have helped to identify a number of new ways veterans want to engage with mental health services.
One of the great things about the Healthwatch model is that we have an overview of the whole health and social care system. There aren’t many organisations in this complex system that have a brief which goes from birth to the end of life, and that works across all health and social care sectors. Healthwatch has a unique view of peoples’ journeys through the system at different points in their lives. That scope gives us our great strength.
From personal experience I know how great care at the right time can make a difference to your whole life. For much of my working life I have therefore worked to improve the quality of health and care services.
I spent almost eight years as Chief Executive of Carers UK, which supports family carers and I was Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Marie Curie Cancer Care. It was a huge privilege to work with people at the end of their lives. The generosity of these people in sharing their experiences was amazing and helped us respond to the needs of people with terminal illness.
Even though there is so much great work going on out there to involve people, I think many of us will recognise that the world of health and social care is still not always very people-friendly. It is certainly a hugely complex and, at times, confusing world, and people need to be supported to have their say.
Providers, too, sometimes need to be encouraged to listen more to feedback. For example, a recent poll of our network shows that just a third of local Healthwatch are being proactively asked by social care providers for insight into what users think of them. This is such a wasted opportunity.
In recent weeks we have looked to raise the profile of what we do in social care, and how feedback is helping providers and commissioners improve the care they provide. We have produced a report pulling together what local Healthwatch have heard from thousands of residents, relatives and staff from visits to almost 200 care homes.
We found that the vast majority of people are broadly very happy with the service they receive. Indeed there were some outstanding examples it is worth highlighting.
In Warrington, one care home stood out because of its innovative use of the “I would if I could” approach to identifying residents’ unfulfilled ambitions. So, when one 99-year-old resident said she wanted to go swimming again, staff approached a local health club, which was happy to heat its pool an extra few degrees to make this simple request possible.
And when another resident wanted to visit London but was not physically up to the trip, staff got a guidebook and took her on a virtual tour of the sights using Google Street View.
But we also found that that some care homes are not getting the basics right. They are not keeping spaces clean, or just making sure that residents feel at home. We found examples of people not being able to choose what to wear or having to eat meals at odd times to suit staff rotas. Even the best homes have areas that could be improved if they asked their residents what they want on an ongoing basis.
In addition to our reports, our #ItStartsWithYou campaign is helping to highlight how people sharing their experiences is making a difference. We are also working with national partners as part of the ‘Quality Matters’ initiative to develop the way the sector learns from compliments and complaints. This is all about building a positive culture around gathering and using feedback.
This is not just about improving services in the here and now. Improving the way feedback is used is also vital for the future of health and social care.
It is clear the sector is under huge pressure at the moment, with budgets stretched and the number of older people growing rapidly. Services are facing significant change. For this change to work, and to ensure it meets the needs of real people, then they need to be involved in the conversation.
This isn’t just the view of Healthwatch. A recent King’s Fund report on the changing nature of the public’s relationship with the health and care said, stressed the need to ensure people have the opportunity to put forward their opinions, and that these opinions are listened to, understood and taken into account.
We know how passionate the public are about our country’s health and care services. It’s time for the sector to call on this passion and get people working with professionals to find new ways to tackle the challenges ahead.