14th March 2011

Comment: how to ensure public engagement in Gov’s ‘Big Society’ vision


David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ has reverberated throughout the UK since before the coalition government was formed and its wide-reaching ideology means it can be applied to every walk of life – and the healthcare sector is no exception. But this is not a new idea. The previous Labour government made it a requirement for NHS trusts wishing to become foundation trusts. So how does the vision for the ‘Big Society’ translate into the healthcare sector? More importantly, does anyone care enough about Cameron’s vision to make it work? Dave Langran, managing director of Silverbear Health, an IT-led community engagement specialist, looks at the issue


FIRSTLY, the concept of involving members of the local community in the decision-making process around local service delivery and spending priorities is compelling. Who wouldn’t want to be asked their opinion on where their own taxed income should be spent?
But when was the last time you were asked what local services you think should be improved, changed, or even closed down? When was the last time you had a conversation with your local NHS trust about its outpatient service or the provision of specialist diabetes nurses across the region?
Few of us would claim to have been consulted. Even fewer would claim to be happy with the outcomes – or at least be aware of the outcomes and the decision-making processes that had led to them. The chances are that, unless you are directly affected by any of these areas, you have never had such a conversation.
In the private sector, organisations make decisions about where to spend their money based on who their customers are and what those customers need. If businesses aren’t busy creating a need, they are trying to meet people’s needs. Product managers will run large focus groups, sampling many prospective customers to make sure that their business offers the right product for the right audience and every aspect of that product such as the features, benefits and price is explored.
In the end, successful companies produce products and services that people want and provide them at a price that people are willing to pay. They will also constantly monitor sales figures, customer satisfaction ratings, brand perception and the changing demographics of their customer base to ensure they are in touch with what is required to maintain their competitive advantage.
So why isn’t this the case with healthcare delivery? Why should the needs of the local community be treated any differently? After all, we are all customers of UK plc.
Click here to read more of this HES article