Healthwatch Northumberland commissioned research to help it understand how the Patient Participation Groups (PPGs) associated with the 41 GP practices in Northumberland currently work, their aspirations and challenges and the relationship they want to have individually and collectively not only with Healthwatch Northumberland but also the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Primary Care Networks (PCN) and local community and voluntary groups. We also wanted to understand how we and PPGs can most effectively communicate and exchange information and views and how this can be used for the benefit of patients, their families and carers.
The research has identified several key areas where further discussion or action would help PPGs develop in a way that is appropriate for them. The recommendations at the end of the report form an agenda for those discussions and provide Healthwatch Northumberland with a series of actions we want to consider.
The research shows that PPGs want to engage with patients, with Healthwatch Northumberland and with the wider health community but for some this is difficult. PPGs see real benefits in engaging more widely and collaborating with others to improve the patient experience. Some PPGs would like to network and engage on a countywide basis whilst others would prefer to do this at a PCN level. This desire to collaborate must be nurtured by Healthwatch Northuberland and must be extended to include the CCG and the GP practices it commissions. There is a real opportunity for a partnership approach to help support PPGs and improve the patient experience and we will play a pivotal role in this.
The research also highlights several areas of challenge for PPGs. The key areas are:
• Recruitment and retention of members who are representative of the Practice Population and who are able to understand and represent the patient perspective and work with the practice to create improvements to service
• Engagement with patients and with the Practice to gather feedback in a meaningful way and to collaborate with the practice to use this feedback to best effect
• Time and to a lesser extent cost – to travel to meetings, to attend meetings at a time that is suitable and to contribute effectively both within and outside the meetings
51% of the PPGs in Northumberland completed the survey that formed the basis of the research and a further 4 provided information during telephone calls meaning HWN heard from 61% of the PPG population during the research period. One of the challenges for HWN is how it engages with the whole PPG community, particularly those who opted not to engage this time.
As PCNs develop, the role of the PPG will become more pivotal because these networks will need to understand the patient perspective and identify how they can develop services that, among other things, improve population health. Healthwatch Northumberland, along with the CCG, will have a role to play supporting both the PCNs and the PPGs. To be most effective we will need to ensure robust relationships with the CCG, PCNs and PPGs.
The report provides recommendations that are set in the context of the aims of the research and focus on the aspirations and challenges faced by PPGs and the way in which Healthwatch Northumberland can best engage to help address these.