The value of listening: Annual Report 2023-24

The value of listening: Annual Report 2023-24

Healthwatch Northumberland Annual Report 2023-24

This year over 12,000 people shared their experiences of health and social care services with us, helping to raise awareness of issues and improve care, or came to us for clear advice and information about topics such as mental health and the cost of living crisis. We published 20 reports about the improvements people would like to see in health and social care services. Our most popular report was Lloyds Pharmacy Enter and View which highlighted the negative impact for patients at the start of pharmacy closures in the county.

How we’ve made a difference this year

  • We drew attention to the impact of pharmacy changes on vulnerable people in the South East of the county
  • We helped the NHS understand why parents in Blyth might attend A&E with a poorly child rather than contact a GP
  • Two young volunteers moved onto higher education with knowledge and experience gained from their time at Healthwatch Northumberland
  • Our website gave people the health information they needed. Our most popular pages were mental health, dementia and LGBT support
  • Our ‘Listening AGM’ enabled members of the public to speak directly to senior decision-makers about the health and care changes they wanted
  • 60 people at our online session heard from the charity Battle Scars about the myths and realities of self-harm
  • We published a guide to help with cost of living pressures and distributed it widely across the county
  • We listened to parents about Health Visiting Services. The provider is now working on an action plan based on our recommendations

Listening to your experiences

Services can’t make improvements without hearing your views. That’s why, over the last year, we have made listening to feedback from all areas of the community a priority. This allows us to understand the full picture, and feed this back to services and help them improve. Our report outlines how we’ve listened to the experiences of local people, including our work to hear from families their experiences of Health Visiting Services, our information on how to get the most from your GP surgery, and how we made sure the views of people living in Harbottle were listened to around a proposal to introduce a mobile healthcare unit in the village.

Hearing from all communities

We have continued to make sure we hear from communities we hear from less frequently. Over the past year we have done this by:

  • Holding monthly drop-in sessions in all areas of the county
  • Hearing from people with learning disabilities about their experiences of health and social care
  • Being part of the Fishermen’s Mission Seafit events at Amble Harbour, bringing services to fishermen, who can find accessing care services difficult due to the nature of their job
  • Working with senior Adult Social Care staff to create the Adult Social Care People’s Advisory Panel
Information and signposting

We can provide confidential and free information to help you understand your options and get the help you need, in line with a ‘making every contact count’ approach. Whether it’s finding a GP practice, making a complaint or choosing a good care home for a loved one – you can count on us. For example, we heard from someone who was having some struggles in their home, and it was unclear what support was already in place. They were unaware of their GP’s Social Prescribing Service, so we referred them on for some help. As a result of this referral and the excellent work of the Social Prescribing Link Worker, the person now has help with weekly cleaning and household tasks as well as receiving a small cash grant for help with heating, some shopping vouchers and other food items to help with the cost of living.

Our online information sessions were a chance for over 250 people to hear from a wide variety of local and national charities and organisations. These included Eating Disorders North East, NECA Gambling North East, Arthritis Action, The Menopause Charity and The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, which spoke about the benefits of strength training.

As we were increasingly hearing about the effects on people’s health due to the rising cost of living, we decided to collate information on different support services that exist in Northumberland and produce a printed ‘cost of living support in Northumberland‘ booklet.

Next steps

Over the next year we will keep working across the county, reaching out especially to people less often listened to, for example, people whose work or lives mean they face difficulties in using health and care services. Thank you to everyone who responded to our Annual Survey and for telling us what you think we should work on next year. You said these are

  • Care in the home
  • Hospital discharge
  • Pharmacy

We will continue to work on GP access, dentistry, mental health and audiology services.

View the Healthwatch Northumberland Annual Report 2024 or download a pdf version.


Harbottle update

Harbottle update

Harbottle mobile health unit proposal

We recently helped Northumbria Primary Care, working with North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, to hear what local people think of the proposal to move the GP/nurse clinic, which is currently provided from Harbottle Village Hall, into a mobile healthcare unit. A  survey was designed by Northumbria Primary Care, and distributed to patients of The Rothbury Practice, other local residents plus the local councillor, parish council and also more widely. Several meetings and drop-in sessions gave people the chance to ask questions and feed back on the proposal. The results of this can be found in our engagement report. North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board will make the final decision on whether the proposal will go ahead.


Harbottle mobile health unit proposal engagement report

What you told us February 2024

What you told us February 2024

Health and social care feedback Northumberland February 2024

In February there were three main areas of concern, with roughly equal amounts of feedback about difficulty getting an appointment with a GP or a dentist, and the distance to travel and lengthy waiting lists to be seen at hospitals.

There were also a good proportion of positive comments about the good standards of care received from GPs and hospitals.

What did we get up to?

In addition to our usual Here to Hear sessions, we did a number of one-off sessions across the county.Some of these were to support our health visiting services project and we heard from parents and carers at Bellingham Family Hub and Haltwhistle Hub. Other sessions were an opportunity for us to join existing events, such as the CarersNorthumberland group meeting, the Thriving Together network event in Berwick and the Longhoughton Health and Wellbeing event.

We also were commissioned to hear from the residents of Coquetdale about potential changes to primary care services including the use of a mobile health unit.

We held two online sessions this month, from the British Liver Trust and Coping with Cancer. The Coping with Cancer talk was rescheduled from January when we experienced technical issues. The cancer event was very well attended, with more guests than had signed up for the original session.

Find out more in our February 2024 feedback report


Caring for carers: Debra’s story

Caring for carers: Debra’s story

Debra Blakey is the Chief Executive Officer of Carers Northumberland and one of our organisational board members. Debra has been on the board for six years, providing invaluable experience and insight. Debra spoke to us about the work of Carers Northumberland and the important relationship with Healthwatch Northumberland.

Debra says “Carers Northumberland is a charity that aims to improve the lives of unpaid carers in the county. We support unpaid carers of all ages, including adult carers of adults, young carers (aged under 18 years) and parent carers (caring for someone who is under 18 years with additional needs). Unpaid carers sometimes don’t see themselves as carers, as they are often a husband, wife, mother, father, brother, sister, neighbour, or friend, but they are providing vital support to someone who would struggle to manage without their help.

We offer advice, information and support to our 7000+ registered carers. We do this in a variety of ways, including via our telephone information line, carer groups, workshops and training, benefits and financial support, grants to enable carers to take a break from caring, support to navigate social care and health provision, plus trips, events, and activities.

I have worked for Carers Northumberland since 2008 (almost as long as it’s been going!) when I joined as an Administration Officer, and I’ve been in the role of Chief Executive Officer since 2018. I have a degree in Criminology and worked in both private organisations and for Northumbria Police before starting in the voluntary sector at Carers Northumberland. I am passionate about making a difference to people’s lives and having worked for a charity for over 15 years I couldn’t see myself working in any other type of organisation now.

I enjoy reading, going out to eat, and love visiting new places. I’m also a keen runner (well I run so that I can enjoy eating cake) and I believe in the benefits of exercise for mental wellbeing. I actually think I enjoy how good I feel about myself after a run more than the actual run itself.

Probably the achievement I am most proud of is securing funding to pilot a Young Carer Support Service to run alongside our existing service for adult carers.  We launched the service in 2020 during a global pandemic, but it has gone from strength to strength, and we are now working very closely with schools in the county to raise awareness of young carers in education to encourage early identification and provide tailored support.

Carers Northumberland has been an organisational board member of Healthwatch Northumberland since its inception, which highlights how valuable our relationship is. Both organisations are striving to improve the health and social care landscape for service users, patients and their families and carers and we have collaborated on several major pieces of work over the past ten years. Being able to feed the views of carers into Healthwatch Northumberland ensures that the carer voice is heard by key decision-makers in the county is invaluable.“

Carers Northumberland supports all carers of all ages and can be contacted by telephone: 01670 320025, email: or visit the website.

We’re recruiting for board members!

We’re recruiting for board members!

We’re looking for board members to help steer the direction of our work. We need people from all of our communities and with different skills and experiences to join our board.

Are you:

  • Aware of current health and social care issues, particularly for people with mental ill health, learning disabilities or people who aren’t being listened to?
  • Good at communicating and listening to people from a wide range of backgrounds and with different experiences?
  • Able to use evidence from service users and research to make impartial, practical judgements?
  • Experienced in setting goals and able to monitor how Healthwatch Northumberland achieves its goals?
  • Experienced in working effectively in a collective decision-making group, board or committee?
  • Committed to working in an impartial and independent way to achieve improvements in health and social care services for service users, carers and the public?

Not everyone will have all the knowledge or experiences listed here, so the board operates as a team, blending together what individuals bring.

Board member positions are voluntary and unpaid and reasonable travel expenses are paid. The board meets four times a year.

Would you like to know more? Read our board member information pack.

How do I apply and what happens then?

Please complete the using the Person Specification to tell us about you and why you want to join us. We will use this to decide who to offer an interview.

All applications must be received by 9am on 7 February 2024.

Please note that we may close submissions earlier than this date if we receive a large number of applications.

If a written application is not appropriate for you, an interview-only assessment may be carried out. Please contact Derry Nugent at

Invitations to interview will be emailed to shortlisted candidates. The interviews will be held during February/March 2024.

Board member information pack

Board member information pack easy read

This vacancy is now closed.

What you told us: October 2023

What you told us: October 2023

Health and social care feedback Northumberland October 2023

This month the biggest issue, apart from difficulties getting an appointment at GP practices, has been poor communication by services. This is around prescriptions in particular, and the communication between patient, GP practice and pharmacy. There have also been communication issues with other services either not communicating with the patient or with each other, which has adversely affected the patient.

What did we get up to?

October was a busy month with an increased number of one-off sessions and events on top of our regular Here to Hear events. We were at Choppington Disability Group’s AGM, Blyth Wellbeing event, Silver Sunday and Mental Health Celebration event (also in Blyth), and Alnwick Garden’s Wellness event, all of which have been well attended and have enabled us to speak to many more people than usual.
Our AGM and listening event at East Bedlington Community Centre was well-attended and we received lots of positive feedback from guests.

This month’s online session on self-harm from Battle Scars was very popular, with our highest ever attendance since we began these sessions.

We ran an online campaign asking people to tell us what they think about their local pharmacy which generated a lot of feedback, almost exclusively positive, with many glowing references to Allendale
Pharmacy. This meant that for the first time since we started the monthly reports in July 2022, we received more positive feedback than negative.

Find out more in our October 2023 feedback report

What you told us: July 2023

What you told us: July 2023

Health and social care feedback Northumberland July 2023

In July the top issues we heard about were difficulties getting GP appointments and finding an NHS dentist. You also told us that some pharmacies were providing incomplete prescriptions. We did however, hear some positive feedback for the service received at dental appointments.

This month as well as attending our usual Here to Hear sessions to hear from the general public, we attended specific targeted groups to get feedback from people we don’t hear from as often.

We hosted our regular online Care Home forum and at our monthly online session we heard from Dr Charles Shepherd of the ME Association who spoke about Long Covid. The session was very well attended – watch the recording of Dr. Shepherd’s presentation.

Read more in our ‘at-a-glance’ report below.

Healthwatch Northumberland report July 2023

What you told us: May 23

What you told us: May 23

Health and social care feedback Northumberland May 2023

During May you told us about the difficulties you were having ordering and getting hold of prescription medicine. We also heard from a number of people that they were still having issues booking a GP appointment. Poor service in local hospitals was another theme from feedback this month.

This month we spent time listening to customers of Lloyds Pharmacy in Sainsbury’s Cramlington, about the impact of the planned closure of the pharmacy this summer. We visited the pharmacy, which is the only 100 hours per week pharmacy in Cramlington, at different times of the day and week, to speak to customers and the wider community, to see what effect the closure would have on local people and other pharmacies in the area. We also provided an online feedback form and heard from 230 people.

As well as our regular Here to Hear drop-in sessions in Berwick, Blyth, Prudhoe, Morpeth and Bedlington, we attended events which included Prudhoe Health Week, the Fishermen’s Mission SeaFit event in Amble and the Choppington Disability Group monthly session.

Read our short report below to find out more.

Healthwatch Northumberland report May 2023

Eye care pathways Northumberland

Eye care pathways Northumberland

Eye care pathways in Northumberland – do they really work and how could they be improved?

In Northumberland, as across England as a whole, growing numbers of people are living with sight loss or impairment. This is likely to increase further as people live longer since a good deal of vision impairment is related to the ageing process. The estimated number of people living with sight loss in Northumberland is 13,500 (4% of the county’s population) which is higher than the national average and this is estimated to rise to 5% of the county’s population by 2032.

Consequently, vision rehabilitation services are considered key to prevention, supporting independence, and reducing demand for health and social care services.

The total estimated indirect cost of sight loss in Northumberland is over £32million. In 2020-2021 people in Northumberland living with sight loss and a wider audience told Vision Northumberland that some people in the county experience unfair barriers to accessing registration and low vision/rehabilitation services, that the eye care pathway in Northumberland was flawed, and that people did not know what services were available to them.

People stressed the importance of:

  • Support close to home rather than travelling to Newcastle
  • Support that focuses on the health and wellbeing impacts of sight loss such as depression, social isolation and loneliness
  • Good support from officers such as Eye Clinic Liaison Officers, low vision specialists and rehabilitation officers
  • Joined up working and effective signposting between services
  • Developing the necessary skills to live with sight loss and maintain independence
  • Access to comprehensive assessments that balance different aspects of a person’s life
  • Health and social care professionals who are compassionate, understand the challenges of sight loss, and have knowledge of visual rehabilitation services and support
  • Accessible information and advice especially in GP services

This report, funded by Healthwatch Northumberland, follows up on that work asking the key questions:

What challenges do people with sight loss in Northumberland experience when accessing registration and low vision/rehabilitation services as outlined in the Care Act 2014?
Does the eye care pathway really work in Northumberland and how could it be improved?

Read the eye care pathways in Northumberland report

Engagement and Volunteering Officer vacancy

Engagement and Volunteering Officer vacancy

We’re recruiting for an Engagement and Volunteering Officer to join our team!

Hours: 25 hours per week

Contract: Permanent (dependent on funding)

Location: Based in Hexham with travel across Northumberland

Salary: £24,396 pro rata – £16,483 actual for 25 hours. Pay award pending

Benefits: 25 days holiday per year, plus statutory holidays pro rata


Healthwatch Northumberland is the independent champion for health and social care across the county.

Health and social care are never far from the news and it’s an area that affects all of us. Come and join us to work as part of a skilled and enthusiastic team, listening to local people and ensuring their voice is heard in how these vital services are planned and delivered.

It’s a busy time. You can make a difference by supporting our current volunteers and encouraging other people to get involved in our work.

Find out more about this role in the Engagement and Volunteering Officer job description.

To apply please complete the online application form.

Closing date for applications is 9.00am Monday 22 May 2023.

Interviews will be on Wednesday 7 June 2023 in Hexham.

If you would like an informal discussion about the role and Healthwatch Northumberland, contact Derry Nugent, Project Coordinator by email  or call 07590 880016.

This opportunity has now closed