Published: 17/11/2005 Volume 115 No. 5982 Page 15
The government's patient and public involvement agenda was introduced 'on the hoof' and imposed within an 'unrealistic deadline' which compromised the quality of forum members.
Those are the conclusions of Leslie Forsyth, director of PPI operations at the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, which is being abolished in the government's cull of arm's length bodies.
Speaking at an HSJ Conference, Mr Forsyth urged delegates not to 'accept unrealistic deadlines' as the NHS moves into a new PPI era.
He said CPPIH had been forced to recruit 5,000 patient forum volunteers in 12 weeks against the commission's wishes, after government policy was put together 'on the hoof' following the abolition of community health councils.
'It took us a year to recover from that activity - just in time to get abolished, strangely enough, ' said Mr Forsyth.
'Inevitably recruiting 5,000 people in 12 weeks made it an exercise in quantity. We tried very hard with quality as well, but all politicians were interested in was: 'Are you going to hit the target?' The consequences of that were quite significant for us as an organisation. The intention had been to have a slower build up and larger forums, but that was put to one side because it simply wasn't practical.' The abolition of CPPIH, originally planned for August next year, has been delayed until 2007 and the reorganisation of patient forums put on hold. A new PPI resource centre, designed to share best practice, is expected to be launched in January.
Mr Forsyth urged the DoH to ensure the future PPI agenda was resourced adequately. 'Public engagement is not cheap, but it tends to be done on the cheap. We are not spending enough on what is a really complicated, difficult and challenging area of work.' He added: 'PPI is not a bolt-on activity. It is not something you do after everything else is done. But at the moment it is. It is crucial, but it tends to be thought about after everything else is done and is not really plumbed into the system.'
The PPI resource centre: the missing link?
The proposed public and patient resource centre will be the missing piece of the PPI jigsaw, according to senior project manager at the Department of Health Samantha Hudson.
The centre, expected to be launched in January next year, will provide support and information and be a hub for people to exchange experiences and learning about PPI in the health service, Ms Hudson said.
'Current guidance, support and information on effective practice just seems to be scattered around the country. It feels as though lots of quite good pieces of the jigsaw just need a place where they can come together.' The centre will also help hold NHS commissioning arrangements to account.
Ms Hudson said: 'There is the need for an informed patient perspective, someone to ask questions like why are you commissioning that service? Is it the right service? Is it the right quality? Have all health inequalities been considered?' She added that the original idea to brand the resource as a 'centre for excellence' was universally rejected because it 'implied it was going to be a body of experts who were going to tell us how to do involvement - in fact it is going to be the other way round.'