Patients have say on health

NHS staff and patients joined forces in Norwich to give the region's health service an “unprecedented” nationwide check-up which will help shape its future.

NHS staff and patients joined forces in Norwich to give the region's health service an “unprecedented” nationwide check-up which will help shape its future.

Getting an appointment with a GP, the cleanliness of hospitals and concerns about the country's aging population were among the topics discussed by a “citizen jury” which then compared its thoughts with other conferences taking part simultaneously across the country.

The delegates at the Holiday Inn on Cromer Road, representing the east of England, voted on key issues and linked up live with eight other regions, including the hub of the national debate in Birmingham attended by health secretary Alan Johnson.

Their responses - including a quarter of the room being “not very satisfied” with health services in their area - will inform a review of the health service called Our NHS, Our Future, led for the government by Lord Darzi.

Dr Robert Winter, who chaired the Norwich event, said the health service needed to be more convenient and easier to access and had to meet the changing needs of the population in each area of the country.

The east of England was comparatively affluent, but was less well served than other areas when it came to stroke units, and, like elsewhere, was showing a rise in the rate of obesity, he added.

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Gathered at tables of 10, more than 80 members of the public and 50 people who work in the sector voiced their views on what works well and what does not, and their priorities for improvement.

Each had voting keypads which revealed that a quarter of the people in the room were “not very satisfied” with health services in their area, while more than half (57pc) were “quite satisfied”.

More than a third (35pc) voted that getting a GP appointment when you need one needed “a lot of improvement” - an opinion shared by the majority of voters when it came to waiting times for hospital treatment (39pc) and providing clean facilities (42pc).

When asked which they deemed the most important issue, the vast majority of the room said “getting the most effective treatment and drugs”.

Their concern about better access to GPs and flexibility in the out-of-hours service was reflected nationwide.

Neil McKay, chief executive of NHS East of England, did not directly take part in discussions but observed each table.

“What I've found from today is that a lot of public opinion seems to be based on conspiracy and myth,” he said.

“This morning I've heard that the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital wouldn't have got the funding if it wasn't built where it was, and hospitals are being fined - both of which are untrue.

“It makes me realise the absolutely massive job we've got, and a shared responsibility with the media, to make sure people understand the reality of what's going on, rather than the rumours.

“I hope everyone will go away from here believing that the government, that those of us in authority, have listened to their views.”

Addressing Norwich and the other conferences, Mr Johnson said: “The aim is to move away from any talk of the structure of the NHS… we want to engage with you, the public, patients and staff of the NHS so we can focus on what people care about most - patient care - so we can improve patient care which is clinically-driven and locally-led.”

Mr Johnson earlier denied that the citizens' juries were simply a rehash of Patricia Hewitt's consultation exercise which led to the Our Health, Our Care, Our Say White Paper.

He said the debates, which also took place in Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Bristol, Maidstone, Reading and York, were “unprecedented”, as they involved NHS staff as well as patients.

He also suggested GPs could be seen in pharmacies and sports centres under plans to make primary care services more responsive to the needs of working people.

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