The end of the NHS listening exercise
Posted Monday 13 June 2011
The future of the NHS is all over the media. Stung by criticism from politicians, health professionals and the public, in April the Government announced a pause in its reforms and set up a 'listening exercise'.
The group overseeing the listening exercise, charged with investigating people’s concerns and recommending changes to the proposals, was the NHS Future Forum. I was asked to be on the panel of this group, and for the last few weeks have worked to ensure that the concerns and needs of people who use mental health service are represented on the panel. While it’s clear that many people hugely value the NHS and the way it supports mental health service users, it would certainly be wrong to assume that nothing needs to be changed (perhaps the impression created by some media coverage).
At the start of the listening exercise, Mind launched a survey asking for your thoughts on the reform proposals. We received an incredible response, with over 1,300 surveys submitted in just a couple of weeks. Using this feedback, input from focus groups and our policy recommendations, I’ve been making the case for changes to be made to the Government’s reforms.
I’ve emphasised to the group the importance of ensuring meaningful choice, and in focusing on an individual’s whole journey through mental health services when commissioning these services (incredibly, one in 10 people that responded to our survey had been assessed eight times or more in a single year!). With 75 per cent of you telling us that you had never been asked for your views on mental health services in your area, I’ve argued that much more needs to be done to guarantee proper patient involvement in the design of services in a local area. Finally, it’s clear that a lot more needs to be done to better join up health and social care services.
The Future Forums report is published today. Many of its recommendations could make the reforms work a lot better for people with mental health problems. These include:
- a call throughout the health and social care systems for ‘no decision about me, without me’
- using competition to support meaningful patient choice, rather than for its own sake
- better integration between health and social care sectors
- the creation of a governing body for the new GP consortia, that meets in public and has effective independent representation.
Of course, the Government is not obliged to adopt these recommendations. However, it is keen to win public and professional support and push its reforms through Parliament, and will be under considerable pressure to do so.
Either way, this is not the end of the story. There’s a lot of political wrangling to come, and it will be the responsibility of Mind to ensure that these reforms deliver a real improvement in the services used by people with mental health problems. We must also ensure that mental health aspects of these reforms tie in with the mental health strategy announced by the Government earlier in the year.
This is the end of the listening exercise, but now the talking really begins. Thank you to all of you that gave your feedback through surveys and focus groups. I'll continue to work towards getting your voices heard, and ultimately helping you shape the services that you use.
I’m sure there will be more opportunities for you to feed back, engage with and influence these reforms — we'll keep you posted. In the meantime, do have a look at the NHS Future Forum recommendations and let me know what you think.
Paul Farmer, Mind Chief Executive
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