There are a couple of things my friends would say make me an obvious communications and engagement person. Firstly, I enjoy talking to people and secondly, I like attention to detail – annoying as it is I'm well known for never keeping my nail varnish on for long because after one day it isn't perfect.
Both these examples happened recently when I was working with a CCG to help engage with non-English speaking people about proposals to change interpreting services at GP and dentist appointments. My colleague and I identified our need to speak directly to people who would be affected. Our first point of call was the local Migrant Centre – they support new entrants into the area and were happy for us to present during their regular update session. They also had volunteers willing to translate the information on the day.
A few days later at a Health and Wellbeing event, I was talking to the various members of the public about the same proposals. This was a great networking opportunity as I met some dedicated community groups who supported carers and various condition groups. One lady seemed very interested in the CCG and the proposal we were engaging about. She was offering free nail polish – so whilst we talked, she painted my nails. She explained she worked for Aspiring Futures, which is a Community Interest Company supported by the local Council. They support women to ‘aspire for better’ and one of the courses they hold is ESOL - English for Speakers of Other Languages. She offered us the opportunity to talk to the group – which of course we accepted.
By the following day, I had confirmed our attendance at both groups. Our aim was to capture the views on the proposal by using the same questions in our survey. Tapping away at the keyboard with bare nails (yep - there goes my habit of not having perfect nails just after one day), we had our plan.
At our first group with the Migrant Centre it was clear new entrants had issues with accessing GPs, not just their disapproval with the suggested proposal. Staff at the Migrant Centre also voiced their concerns from experience with other patients. Their insight was very informative for our engagement exercise. The whole session was a new experience for me – my colleague and I had to talk in small, simple sentences so the interpreters could relate it back in the necessary language. There was four different conversations happening in different languages – but what was clear was the negative feelings toward the proposal and the need to investigate the issues around accessing GPs in general.
The second group during the ESOL training proved very different – again using internal interpreters we described the proposals and our aim for being there in short and simple sentences. The entire group felt positive about the proposals and fed back suggestions on how the new proposals could work. Toward the end of the session, new people were raising their views too and using this engagement exercise as an example to speak English.
By comparing both of these groups it was clear that new entrants experienced more issues accessing a GP and disagreed with the proposal. The ESOL group, however, which included people who had already experienced appointments and the NHS system, seemed happy with the proposal.
This experience has showed me that when engaging with seldom heard groups you need to consider more than one group. You may think you’ll know what they’ll say but actually it's about knowing their full journey. I would advise engagement leads to think outside the box and always look at ways to develop your stakeholder list and maintain those relationships – even if it means getting your nails painted at the same time.
I am pleased to say that as a result of this engagement exercise, colleagues at the CCG met with staff from the Migrant Centre, as well as Practice Manager representatives and leads from NHS England to work on improving the access for new entrants into a GP surgery in that area. All views gathered during this exercise have been considered and the CCG are finalising the outcomes. The value of this targeted engagement has helped inform the entire procedure, and all those involved in the process will receive an update on the proposals.