What people tell us
Healthwatch Essex and Healthwatch Suffolk are independent organisations with a statutory role to listen to, and give a voice to local people regarding health and social care. Both organisations have carried out a number of engagement and consultation activities with local people within Suffolk and North East Essex in recent years. They have reviewed the outcomes of these activities between 2014 and 2019, and identified a range of overarching themes:
Quicker and easier access to services
People in Suffolk and North East Essex have told us they want to see improvements in the speed, ease and way in which they are able to access services. While many of the comments received relate to GP appointments, the same difficulties were also expressed about accessing hospital and other specialist health services. Specific issues mentioned included:
- The need for improved access to urgent and same day appointments at GP pratices, through the provision of extended practice hours.
- Improvements to the way GP, hospital and other specialist service appointments are made, with more availability of digital and online systems, video conferencing etc
- Improved access to specialist services for those with long term conditions.
- Earlier access to general mental health help and support to help reduce demand on acute and crisis services.
- Improved access to mental health crisis services without the need for attendance at A&E.
Maintaining a record of engagement
Healthwatch have found that there is a lack of easily available information about the engagement projects taking place across the ICS. If as an Integrated Care System we are to evidence that plans are locally owned, there is a need for partner organisations to commit to maintaining a record of all engagement activity and that this record provides details of the key findings and how these have been used in formulating decisions about service provision. In order to facilitate this, the ICS will create and maintain a central archive/ library of evidence that is accessible to the public and the health and care workforce.
Easier navigation of services
Helping the public understand their health and wellbeing choices better, through information about what services are available and how support can be accessed was another key theme across the engagement reports. Providing clarity around the appropriate use of services was also felt to be essential e.g. understanding the differences between emergency and urgent care services and in what circumstances each service should be used.
Better collaborative working across services
The people of Suffolk and North East Essex want to see better joint working between health and care services. Key to enabling this is an improvement in communication systems which facilitate the sharing of information across organisations (GPs, hospitals, pharmacy, paramedics, care providers). There is a particular need for better communication and co- ordination of care following hospital discharge and there were specific calls for better integration between mentalhealth and the wider community including schools, voluntary organisations, and the local authorities.
Mental health support to be better embedded in primary care
GPs should have mental health and suicide awareness training, and be able to recognise the early signs of perinatal mental health issues. The use of technology was embraced by some, but not all patients. There was a recognition that it could help speed access to services and facilitate better communication between services, however it was acknowledged that digital solutions are not appropriate for all and should not replace personal contact with clinician when required.
Continuity of care
There was a strong desire to see greater continuity of care to prevent patients having to repeat medical histories and to build trust and confidence in clinicians. Continuity of care assists clinicians gain an understanding of patients’ individual circumstances and supports the delivery of better person centred care. The role of specialist nurses for those with long term or multiple conditions were particularly appreciated. There was general dissatisfaction about waiting times for initial access into services and a frustration about the timeliness of follow up appointments once a service had been accessed. The need to chase test results and/or follow up appointments and cancelled appointments was a source of anxiety and disappointment for patients and carers.