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‘From a vision of patient engagement, to meaningful enactment’

Bev Fitzsimons 05 December 2017

Our Head of Improvement, Bev Fitzsimons, explains that recognising common humanity of carers and patients is key to improving relationships.

Topics and programmes


Looking ahead to our spring conference on ‘Making healthcare more human’, I am particularly struck by the session on strengthening the relationship between patients and staff. It’s an unusual take on a common issue. Often in healthcare we talk about the way in which staff interact with patients. But we talk much less about this being a reciprocal relationship between patients and staff, in which both bring value to the relationship. Staff are not mere ‘deliverers’ of care, nor patients mere ‘recipients’. Both are (or should be) partners in a symbiotic relationship in which both benefit.

For healthcare to be more human, both staff and patients need to see the humanity in each other. This is both at an individual ‘shared decision-making’ level and in terms of co-production and engagement in improvement and governance.

At our conference we plan to explore, with examples from both our speakers and our audience, what this means in practice. How can these strengthened relationships be achieved and sustained? What is it like when this ambition is achieved? What can get in the way?

Lessons from Sussex

We will be listening to powerful accounts from patient leaders and clinicians about their experiences of putting this into practice, drawing on the work of the Sussex MSK (musculoskeletal) partnership – a unique not-for-profit partnership which brings together primary and community-based specialist care staff with a network of patient-citizens who are seeking to learn and make decisions together. They are also experimenting with a Patient Director role that supports a focus on what matters to people who use services, and attempting to hard-wire this focus into everyday business, systems and culture.

This is a step change from the usual engagement activity in which patients give feedback and professionals make decisions. The partnership recognises the value that people who use services can offer, in understanding what is working and what is not, but also through the diverse range of talents that such a group brings. Working in this way makes the leap from the vision of patient engagement, to its meaningful enactment. For patients’ experiences to be valued in this way builds confidence and enables people to make a meaningful contribution, to ‘give something back’ – often a strong desire from people who have used services.

Transforming experiences

At the Point of Care Foundation we have found again and again how stepping into the shoes of patients and service users transforms the experiences of people working in healthcare – reconnecting them powerfully to the reasons they entered their chosen professions in the first place. It requires courage to make this work, but the results are extraordinary.

For patients, the challenge is to steer a path between critical friend and supportive ally, ask difficult questions about the things that matter to patients, and use their own personal stories with care. For staff it means sometimes accepting not knowing the answers or not being in control, and feeling vulnerable too. But the upshot is that true partnerships and stronger relationships are made possible. We’ve had a glimpse of this from the Sussex MSK group, and I can’t wait to find out more from them and others in March.