Taking part in a Department of Health pilot to help drive innovation in public and patient engagement and quality performance improvement, NHS Coventry broke with tradition with a new, interactive approach. Feedback from the consultations were both surprising and ‘overwhelmingly positive’.

“We all know that the Comprehensive Spending Review has triggered the biggest change in public sector spending in a generation,” says Stephen Jones, chief executive at NHS Coventry.

“Whatever happens with the future of the health service, we know there are tough decisions to be made in the coming months, because the country can’t just keep on funding a never-ending bill for the NHS.

“In Coventry, we wanted to look at new ways of supporting clear and open conversations with local people about these current financial challenges and issues of prioritisation. Through this project, we wanted to explore how we could engage with local people in new and creative ways, and to be able to say, ‘Well, what do you think is most needed within your community?’ and ‘How do you think money should be spent?’”

Working with social marketing experts ICE, NHS Coventry began by consulting widely with staff and key stakeholders on the key issues they felt important to talk with the public about. From this feedback, they developed and tested a very innovative and unique set of public engagement tools.

Mr Jones continues: “Previously, our public and patient involvement days have been quite traditional in their delivery. People are invited to come and listen to a few short talks and presentations from the NHS, and then take part in a small group debate or discussion on a series of questions.

“What we wanted to do through this pilot project was explore ideas for a very different approach that could get people more involved in conversations with us. We wanted to find a solution that would enable a much broader cross-section of our communities to express their views – those of all ages and from all backgrounds, including those who are seldom heard.” 

The outcome of this series of consultations was a re-shaping of the entire patient and public engagement process into a series of fun and interactive games to help members of the public consider the difficult decisions facing the NHS and to express their views on how best to tackle them and which areas of health care they felt should be prioritised.

An initial public and patient engagement event was hosted in a community centre in Coventry last autumn, to help test and pilot this new approach. Delivered in more of a “fun fair” format rather than a sit-down event, ICE developed the event featuring eight interactive game stalls which were positioned around a large hall space, each dealing with a different subject matter or hot topic for discussion in an engaging way.

Each game stall hosted an interactive game designed to help participants look at the difficult issues around costs to the NHS, and the prioritisation of different services and future planning. Participants rotated around the room in small groups to engage with each game during the event.  

One game, for example, was based on the popular television game show Play Your Cards Right. The objective of the engagement game was to gain insight into participants’ awareness levels about the financial impact on NHS Coventry created by those who smoke and drink. Participants were each given a financial question related to this subject and had to guess higher or lower than the statistic or figure given, sparking some strong discussions and debate among the groups.

Another game based on Family Fortunes, asked members of the public to guess popular public responses to questions about how and when to access different NHS services, helping to highlight some popular myths, while The Wheel of Fortune game show format was used to help participants to explore how much money NHS Coventry spent in 2009-10 on various services such as: hospital care, primary care including GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacies, mental health services, and prescriptions. 

“For me, one of the particularly insightful games was called You’re a Commissioner which invited members of the public to step into the shoes of an NHS commissioner and answer a range of questions about NHS Coventry such as ‘What do you think NHS Coventry should make as their number one priority?’ or ‘How do you think NHS Coventry could save money?’” says Mr Jones.

“I think what was particularly useful about this kind of engagement event was that people had to be far more actively engaged in the process than they would be in a traditional patient and public engagement session, and as a result, the insight from the public that it generated was far more thorough.

Throughout the day, all the feedback given during each of the games was recorded by staff and then drawn into a full findings report which will help to shape strategic decisions about the future of services.

He adds: “Although we inevitably identified a few things which we want to fine tune slightly, the feedback from participants who took part in this pilot has been overwhelmingly positive. I think a lot of people were generally surprised by the amount of information they learned as they took part.” 

Over the coming few months, NHS Coventry plans to take this set of engagement products and activities out into various community settings. Mr Jones explains: “Having tested the format, we really want to it out to local workplaces, schools, colleges and community groups all over Coventry now, and with a particular focus on talking to those who we find harder to engage traditionally, such as disadvantaged young people and people with learning disabilities.”

NHS Coventry will also be continuing to showcase the approach and share their learning with colleagues across the wider NHS over the coming months.

Find out more about the project by watching a short film about the event on YouTube.