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Healthcare and life science experts with Andy Burnham examine the voice of patients in levelling up health

In the second of a series of features, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham joins leading experts in health and life sciences at a question-time panel discussion in Liverpool.

Addressing tensions

As Chair and Vice President of Strategic Planning, Northern Europe at IQVIA, Angela McFarlane started the important discussion on ensuring patient voice is at the heart of levelling up healthcare in the UK. Dr Ruth Bromley, Chair of Manchester Care and Commissioning asks the debate-striking question on how we address the existing tensions between hierarchies and structures within the NHS.

As former Minster for Health, Andy Burnham gave a personal perspective of dealing with frustrating tensions that “holds the health service back”. He admitted that the “health service has been quite hierarchical at times”, stating “I had concerns about the policies of my own government, in that, it somewhat drove an institutional fragmentation – where the focus was on institutions and less on systems.”

However, the Mayor offered hope following the coronavirus pandemic, stating: “If there is something that gives me hope coming out of the pandemic…It is the extent to which Greater Manchester is moving towards more of a health system as opposed to a group of slightly competitive institutions”. He explained this success can be replicating nationally.

Former Minister for Innovation, Lord James O’Shaughnessy added hopes that the introduction of Integrated Care Systems could alleviate tensions that exist to foster a more unified direction of healthcare providers.

On addressing patient voice directly, he added “ultimately this is about the patient and the citizen, and we need to give them more control and agency over their care…I think the digital revolution produces potentially a massive opportunity but it is obviously spread unevenly, addressing which is going to be really important too.”

Capturing feedback and patient centricity in levelling up

As Chair, Angela McFarlane directed her next question on how we place patients at the heart of the health system and ensure their voice is included in the levelling up agenda. CEO of Heart Research UK, Kate Brat-Farrar explained that the conversation with patients on levelling up frankly isn’t taking place and that we need to be “representative” before we strive to be “innovative”. She explained a tendency for the health and life science system to “reinvent the wheel”, ending up with more and more professional patient groups that fail to truly connect patients with the healthcare system.

She added the need to ask ourselves the tough questions when evaluating patient voice in health, asking “why would they want to talk to us? Why do they want to feedback? What do they think the impact is going to be and what is the difference going to be for them?”. However, she explained that there is a clear opportunity to foster an honest conversation between patients and clinicians, but the system needs to trust healthcare professionals on their experiences with patients.

Dr Ruth Bromley furthered this point when she said: “the innovation for me is that we have already heard but we haven’t necessarily listened or responded. So what we hear, and Andy and I have worked a lot in co-production particularly with people with lived experience of homelessness, is actually people are sick of being asked what they want. They want someone to do something about what they’ve already told the system multiple times already.”

The panel agreed that fostering trusting relationships between clinicians, front line support and patients was needed to allow innovation to reach patients. At the heart of what the healthcare and life sciences is built around, the voice of patients is not heard enough – to the detriment of them and the standard of treatment and care of clinicians and providers.

Final thought

The panel showed true passion and enthusiasm on the important topic of patient voice, which is often missing from these discussions and within the sector. In particular, the work of Ruth Bromley and Kate Brat-Farrar in representing the lived experience of patients gave great depth to the discussion – a strength matched by the knowledge and expertise of the wider health system from the Mayor and Lord O’Shaughnessy.

It is clear that long-standing tensions do exist between healthcare systems, providers and patients. The panel agreed that such tensions need to be addressed instead of swept under the carpet, as is often the case. Nevertheless, hope is not lost and there are certainly opportunities to strengthen the voice of patients in levelling up and opportunities to unify treatment and care towards them. The introduction of Integrated Care Systems will be anticipated by the whole sector as an opportunity to address these issues and create unity of purpose instead of continuing tensions.

The exciting discussion provided by Chamber UK and IQVIA with the distinguished panel allowed a refreshing debate on the issue of patient voice to take place. To their credit, the breadth of experience of the panel particularly Kate Brat-Farrar and Ruth Bromley gave real strength to the conclusions drawn.

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