When we were asked to support the development of the Surrey Heartlands future plans, we decided to run a programme of public engagement and research in Surrey. By involving the local community in the research process, in line with the ethical principle of “nothing about us, without us,” we can hear from local people about their experiences – what’s working well and what isn’t – and our research also becomes more credible.
Throughout October we have been seeking out the views of all those who use NHS, health and care services in Surrey.
Gathering insights into people’s experiences
We have been asking people to share their stories and thoughts of what works well and what they would like to see done differently. This could be about a visit to a local pharmacy or about an operation they’ve undergone. We see all experiences as equally valid.
In particular, we were keen to gather insights into people’s experiences of accessing and using primary care, emergency and hospital services, but also their experiences with integrated care (health and social care services, shared care records), social prescribing, prevention, their preference and attitudes around specialised hubs versus very localised services, as well as their experiences with hospital discharge pathways.
To reach people across Surrey Heartlands, we have held a total of 12 public engagement sessions and talked with people in local shopping centres, supermarket car parks, further education colleges, warm hubs and hospitals. By setting up sessions at public places and different hospital sites, we were able to engage with a variety of people, from different backgrounds with varied life experiences, who make up our community in Surrey Heartlands.
During November we’ll be engaging directly with young people and those living on low incomes.
Taking an open approach
We take an open approach to our conversations, starting from the belief that what a person wants to tell us spontaneously, is what matters the most to them. All conversations are completely anonymous, although we record some basic information about the person (for example: gender, approximate age, ethnicity).
It's clear there is a lot of support for the NHS, which is always encouraging to hear and we also heard a lot of gratitude, especially for all the frontline staff working so hard to provide care to people and their loved ones.
So far, there has been a general feeling from the public that this has been a good approach, with Surrey Heartlands being out there in the community talking about what matters to people when it comes to NHS services and healthcare more generally. It is clear that people want to have their say, and their stories and experiences will be key in shaping our services, priorities and ways of working.
We found that most people had a lot to say, and were very keen to share their stories. But it’s not just the quantity of people we talk to, because of the quality and depth of conversations, we are able to really understand what people’s experiences are and provide robust, meaningful feedback to shape our plans and priorities.
Analysis of findings and next steps
An initial analysis of the insight collected has highlighted the following themes:
- Access to local GP surgeries - Still a key challenge, particularly in terms of booking (timely) appointments.
- Frustration about long waiting times for appointments - Both in primary care and hospital care settings.
- A clear need and desire for greater investments in the workforce - With lack of incentives, support and better working conditions this was seen as one of the key factors driving poor health care outcomes.
- Appetite for more direct, frequent and personalised communications with patients about their health needs - And reassurance that they “are in the system” particularly if faced with long waiting times between referrals and appointments. Where this was in place, people reported more positive experiences, and greater sense of agency, “being in control” over their health journey.
- Greater coordination between health and social care services - Particularly in the context of hospital discharge and post-discharge care.
- Continuity of care as a key factor determining experiences with health and care services - The most positive experiences all had to do with establishing direct and long-term relationships with healthcare professionals (such as GPs, consultant, nurses). There is a recognition that this is not always possible, but equally this is a central factor determining people’s satisfaction with NHS services.
- A desire to see greater investments in local services, as these feel closer, more in touch with people and their community - Some people mentioned having access to a single GP surgery in their local area, unable to cater for the growing population, particularly given project of urban development. One person said: “If the village is expanding, so do the number of services available.”
We are now analysing the information collected to identify key themes. A survey will also be rolled out towards the end of the month to support the findings from the public engagement sessions and test them among a wider population. We will seek additional feedback on the findings from our partners across Surrey, which will be integrated into the final report.
We are also planning to incorporate this way of working into our day-today approach, meaning that we will go out and talk to the public regularly, asking them about their experiences with health and care services. By doing this, we will be providing continuous feedback to the organisation and system as a whole, able to track changes in the experiences and priorities of our communities, and really embed their voices into our work and our priorities across health and social care.
Collaboration is key
Although the Surrey Heartlands research team led on this piece of work, the engagement is the result of collaborative system working with other teams and service providers, all of whom have helped to facilitate sessions, source materials and help with logistics. We would like to thank everyone who’s taken part for the role they have played.
And of course, our special thanks go to all the members of the public who have shared their stories, experiences and concerns with us Your feedback has been invaluable and will help us drive forward improvements for the benefit of the 1.1 million people living in Surrey Heartlands.