I get quite excited whenever a client initiates a discussion, or shows a genuine interest in wanting to engage with communities whom we seldom hear from. Last week was one of those days.
A practice located in the diverse suburbs of Birmingham was keen to explore ways to hear the priorities of the patients who use their service, "we would like to facilitate ongoing discussions in these diverse groups, so we can truly understand what their needs are ," said the Practice Manager.
We try all sorts of ways to encourage people to attend public engagement events, fill in consultation surveys, join patient groups or just be involved in having a say on local health services. And people attend. Surveys get filled in, and there are PPGs and patient groups with strong memberships. But chances are, the demographic profiling of each would show us the same groups of engaged people.
In the case of this GP practice in Birmingham, service users also included newly arrived migrants, and a high concentration of Somali and Romany communities. We are aware that English may not be their first language, and being perceived as a figure of authority may not necessarily work in our attempt to start conversations.
We want to reach out to these groups, understand what's important to them and empower them to feel included in shaping local health decisions.
So our plan is to start with those who are familiar to these groups, supporting them to take the first step towards engaging with these communities. The practice's healthcare assistants are local to the communities, so they speak the languages which will help facilitate communication and break down barriers. They are also keen to be involved in recruiting and supporting a regular patient community group, and trained in areas such as meeting facilitation and minute taking.
It's rare that synergies like this happen, and capturing voices of those seldom heard is high on everyone's agenda. I can already tell that the team are looking forward to seeing how they can develop this, and will likely discuss learnings and successes with the same enthusiasm of a football fan after a match.