[H]ealthwatch Cumbria (HWC) has been “Highly Commended” at the Annual National Healthwatch Conference for its work in forming and running the West Cumbria Community Forum (WCCF).
Chosen from over 150 entries HWC was praised for what the forum had achieved and recognised as providing a model of effective engagement in a time of service change.
David Blacklock, Chief Executive Officer for Healthwatch Cumbria said: “Once again Healthwatch Cumbria has received recognition nationally for the work that we do in engagement and in expressing the views of the local community. Public engagement is a two way process, and this commendation recognises both the creative work the HWC Team put into engaging with the community and also the informed views which the public expressed to us. This ensures that a strong message with a Cumbrian voice can be delivered via the Forum and acted on by the decision makers involved in these service changes.”
HWC set up The Forum in 2014 because;
- There was massive concern about the future of services in west Cumbria, especially maternity and paediatrics
- North Cumbria University Hospital Trust (NCUH) covering west, north and east Cumbria had been in special measures for 3 years
- There was a lack of trust of the leadership of the Hospital Trust, especially in light of the consequences of a possible acquisition by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust
- There was a polarisation of feelings that blurred the communication between the community and their decision makers
HWC facilitated the WCCF and appointed an independent chair to help to bring together local community representatives and decision makers agreeing the Forums purpose and agenda. Representatives understood they were there on behalf of networks and not as individuals.
The format was fluid in order to ensure all attendees had an equal opportunity to be heard. There were small group based discussions allowing every aspect of an issue to be covered, guest speakers invited to give presentations about areas of their specialism relevant to the agenda and there were large group discussions to let everyone have their say regarding the current direction of thinking.
Meanwhile west, north and east Cumbria had been included as one of 3 Success Regime (SR) areas increasing the spotlight on service change and bringing a wider number of services into the discussions. The existence of the Forum meant there was a place for the SR to bring its thoughts and people were able to talk face to face with decision makers. The Forum became the place for community feelings to be represented to decision makers, where ideas were shared and shaped, processes discussed and developed and, often most powerfully, individual experiences retold to show the human impact of the decisions that were being made.
Now that the dust has settled after the Success Regime the WCCF continues to flourish with a revised set of Terms of Reference and supported by its members. It provides a place where conversations for a healthier future can take place and is the very embodiment of the co-production that the “Future of Healthcare in west, north and east Cumbria” envisaged with HWC entrusted with a place firmly at the helm.