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Engagement – battle or bliss?

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Nursing Times Award winner Joanne Mangnall talks about implementing a continence prescription project.

I find it strange that there are a number of ways in which the word engagement can be used in daily language. Someone who is greatly interested in a subject can be described as ‘engaged’. Conversely those involved in a hostile encounter can be said to be ‘engaged’ in a deadly battle. I was a little wary therefore, to find out during the implementation phase of our continence prescription project, that our trust has a project lead for ‘patient and public engagement’.

Did this mean they were in charge of hostile encounters with patients or did they keep a list of patients who were ‘interested’ in specific services? As a team we had discussed how we could ensure that those using the service, our patients, we happy with the changes we were making. This is not unusual, ensuring patient satisfaction is a key component of Darzi’s quality framework. Our initial thoughts were to design a patient satisfaction survey, again not unusual. It would tick the box and we might get some useful feedback but would it let patients tell us what they wanted to tell us? In order to ensure we had considered all options for measuring patient satisfaction we decided to invite the project lead for patient and public engagement (PLPPE, otherwise known as Helen) to meet with us to thrash out some ideas.

On meeting Helen it was apparent hostile encounters were not her thing, her special talents revolved around getting people interested. She suggested we might like to consider a resource called Patient Opinion, which is a not for profit social enterprise organisation. Patient opinion is web based and allows patients to post their stories / experiences of health care. The resource allows patients to input directly onto the website, alternatively they can use a postcard to write comments which are then posted on their behalf or they can telephone in and leave stories. I have to admit now I was a tad sceptical about using this resource, however other members of the project team said we should give it a go and give it a go we did! Once registered with Patient opinion we received patient packs which we gave out each time a patient generated a contact with the service. Almost immediately postings from patients started to appear. These posting have given us a clear understanding of what patients like about the new service. Some of the postings have made us feel quite sad as they tell stories of people struggling with inappropriate equipment; however these are the stories which fire us up to do more and keep making improvements.

We met with Helen yesterday to look at the best way of setting up a service user group. She is so sensible, she advised us to develop an involvement plan which was linked to our service development plan. This would enable us to see clearly when we would need user involvement and what for. From our discussions  we can see we actually need different types of user involvement. We need a task and finish group to contribute to the development of our patient information resources and a group which meets on a regular basis to discuss new products etc. Helen tells us we also have the option to use a virtual user group which may be useful to some of our housebound patients; we could also consider developing our service website to include a moderated discussion area. I have had my eyes opened to so many different ways in which we can work with those using services, I feel truly engaged! 

Joanne Mangnall, Continence Advisor, Rotherham Community Health Services

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