Why I volunteer, what I do, what it gives me
About ten years ago I was introduced to Healthwatch through my GP’s Patient Participation Group. I was semi-retired after a hectic international business career and it gave me an opportunity to see and experience a different type of organisation. Also, and perhaps more importantly, as an extended family we had benefitted from various NHS services from child care and dental services through to mental health services and this was an opportunity to “put something back” and also to help represent the patient and carer voice to administrators. My first projects were with the Enter and View (E&V) programme.
Healthwatch have legal power to visit health and social care services facilities, see them in action and report back to commissioners and the public. E&V allows a local HealthWatch to identify what is working well with services and where they could be improved. All our reports are publicly available and along with those of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) allow the public to check on any facility before using it. Our work programme is based on feedback from the public, from Barnet Council and the CQC.
We also carried out a number of mystery shopping exercises. We had appropriate training for all the different types of visits; Care Homes, Dentists, Mental Health Wards and how to be a Mystery Shopper. My most memorable Mystery Shop was to a Sexual Health Clinic – I can’t talk about the (embarrassing) details; suffice to say that the professionalism of the staff was exemplary. We also via a mystery shop carried out a survey on the availability of NHS dental services in Barnet. Our E&V visits complement those of the CQC with whom there is close liaison. In a Care Home visit we focus on the equality of life and well-being through the eyes of residents and their families. For example, if your Mum is in a Care Home does she have access to a hairdresser?
Other projects included reports on Access to GPs, Cancer Patient Transport, GP Websites and Out-of- Hours GP Services. Current projects are virtual E&V visits, the effects of Long COVID and the provision of services and the impact of remote GP Consultations particularly on vulnerable and disadvantaged people. We also produced an information sheet for the patient or carer, to understand and prepare for a remote consultation with their health professionals.
My reward for this voluntary work is seeing the improvements that we can bring to the lives of people who may feel that their voices are not heard and to help improve local health services. The owner of a Care Home we visited thanked us for pointing out issues that he had not spotted and referred to us as a “critical friend”.
A huge thank you to Stewart and all our volunteers!