When Andrew Lansley first announced the pausing of his notorious Health and Social Care Bill, it was in order “to listen and to engage with all those who want the NHS to succeed”.
It’s a great aspiration. Who could want our health service to succeed more than patients? A stakeholder group for whom performance can literally be a matter of life and death.
And yet, while the government took on board the rumblings of hospital doctors, nurses and therapists during its “listening exercise”, they seem to have forgotten that the NHS should first and foremost be about patients, not staff.
When the Future Forum was announced, the inclusion of accountability and patient involvement was rightfully meant to herald the end of an era where patients found themselves on the outside, looking in.
But while the Forum heard so much from royal colleges, trade unions, and various other groups representing health service staff, individual patients’ voices were barely registered. With just one patient representative on the Future Forum - compared with over two dozen NHS staff - no wonder it was hard to hear what patients had to say.
The conclusions of the listening exercise showed that targets will remain, and a wider range of healthcare professions will be able to influence how NHS money will be spent. These announcements give great focus for staff, but mention of plans including patients are minimal.
Patients have been promised more commitment to listening, involvement and engagement, but what has really changed? This will be done using much the same people, wielding the same tools. LINks might be making way for Health Watch, but there is little to suggest that a name change and some goodwill will achieve anything new for patients.
Patient involvement is the key to a successful NHS, but yet again government action seems to prove it is not a priority.
What is needed is a new approach from policymakers, which takes into account the way that people communicate in the modern world. Patients tweet about the NHS and use social media to say how health services can be improved.
The NHS likes to talk about the “hard to reach” when in reality - from the patient perspective - they are the ones who are hard to reach.
We need policy that moves with the times and supports the needs of patients. The NHS Future Forum should have helped give these patients a voice so loud it can no longer be ignored but, unfortunately, they did not.