NHS Leicestershire County and Rutland have developed a membership scheme which they believe is unique in its approach.
The scheme, called “Be healthy, be heard” was developed as a mechanism for more meaningful engagement and consultation with the public, in the light of the strengthening of section 242 legislation, and the requirements of world class commissioning.
But in addition, the primary care trust decided to use the scheme as an opportunity to cascade healthy lifestyle messages and general health advice.
While we know of other PCTs with membership schemes which focus on consultation, we have not as yet heard of any others with the “be healthy” driver.
Since its launch in March 2009, the scheme has already recruited more than 6,000 members. The membership team have published and distributed two magazines. A member competition resulted in the winning name Healthy Times.
The magazine includes health messages in line with the PCT’s wider strategy (for example obesity and healthy lifestyles; older people during the local “older persons” month, including the PCT’s local priority of dementia; and about health during the holidays in the summer edition) and will provide an ongoing vehicle for key messages about health initiatives.
Members have had opportunities to attend smoothie workshops, where the local nutritionist advised them on how to make healthy smoothies, and regular “medicine for members” events are organised. At this, health professionals talk about an important health issue. A medicine for members on prostate cancer attracted 34 people and further events on motherhood and mental health, and on diabetes, are being organised.
The scheme has also proved ideal as a means for inviting people’s views on health developments. The trust is involved in a number of pieces of engagement on next stage review developments, and members attended an event on major trauma. They are now signing up for forthcoming events on maternity and neonatal services.
The idea for the scheme first came about after a conversation with the chief executive of Hull City PCT. NHS LCR’s chairman, head of communications and engagement, and director of corporate services paid a visit to the trust, and learned about how their scheme was developing.
The idea had come from seeing what foundation trusts were doing because of their statutory requirement to develop membership, and seeing how it could be adapted to help PCTs with their own public engagement.
A paper outlining options was presented to NHS LCR’s board in summer 2008, and the chief executive of Hull City PCT attended a board development session. At this stage, NHS LCR decided not to major on governance aspects of membership, while foundation trusts need to do this, and have member governors, at present PCTs are not governed in this way.
It was agreed to pursue the idea of recruiting members who could both be consulted on health service developments and priorities, and could be a conduit for health messages which are far more integral to the purpose of a PCT. A procurement was carried out, and a local direct mail company with experience of membership schemes was commissioned to run the membership.
Rather than develop the scheme in isolation, the communications and engagement team then decided to hold a “co-creation” workshop to which they invited stakeholders including members of the local involvement networks, representatives of local authorities and the voluntary sector, and of ‘seldom heard’ groups, members of staff, representatives of other NHS trusts, and representatives of our own public involvement committee.
At this workshop, the participants explored what a membership scheme could mean to them, and asked questions which helped the trust clarify our aims.
They also looked at examples of membership literature developed in both the public and private sector, and commented on it. This led to some interesting insights – for example, that if the word FREE is prominent, people are automatically drawn to posters and leaflets.
People also will always ask “what’s in it for me?” and with this in mind, as well as the incentive of being healthy and being heard, it was suggested that there could be discounts for members with local organisations and businesses. People also commented on colour and design, and said what sort of messages made sense to them. They said they liked the idea of a membership card, to show they belonged, and as the means for getting discounts.
There was also support for the idea of having individual members, and corporate members – the idea is that corporate members can progress ‘be healthy’ messages with their staff, and can ask for feedback on consultations.
Following the workshop, the direct marketing company produced some sample literature and posters, including the slogan “Be healthy, be heard” and this was further tested with the participants at the workshop, and with other groups, such as the local youth parliament. Their feedback helped decide the final format for the scheme’s identity.
We have found that when working on engagement with the public, it is important to listen to them as well as simply telling them our ideas, and this kind of collaborative work is an example of putting this into practice.
The membership scheme was launched in March 2009, with a direct mailing and extensive publicity in the local media. Stakeholders also received letters explaining what we were doing – for example, we needed to have conversations with the local county council to explain that individual staff members and councillors could be members, but because of the council’s scrutiny role it was not appropriate for them to be a corporate member.
The direct marketing company visited local companies to sign them up as corporate members. They had previously also talked to local companies and organisations about putting in place discounts for members, and rapidly put together a list of discounts which is constantly growing.
At the time of writing there were more than 6,000 members, and a further mailing is currently in process.
We believe that this unique scheme presents an excellent model for engagement with local people, not only in order to receive their feedback, but to help them become healthier, in line with our vision “to make Leicestershire and Rutland the healthiest place in the UK”.
Catherine Griffiths is chief executive of NHS Leicestershire County and Rutland.