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National Patient Forum 2015

At 7.30am last Tuesday, I found myself talking aloud in my car, en route to Dublin, practicing for a presentation that I would be delivering at the National Patient and Service User Forum that same morning. Looking back,  I was really getting into it and I quite animatedly corrected myself when I went off track by shaking my head and frowning– I’m sure if anyone saw me, they surely had an early morning laugh on my behalf!

Anyway, it was just as I said the words “collaboration is key” that my GPS decided to gently interrupt my thoughts to let me know that I was coming off the motorway unto a national road. I suddenly realised where I was and was surprised because I didn’t recall the two hour journey I had just made, being so caught up in my thoughts about the oncoming day’s events.

Now I realise this isn’t just me that goes on autopilot when behind the wheel– so many of us on a daily basis put the key in the ignition and off we go – allowing one part of our brains to change gears, indicate, look in mirrors, check on the kids in the backseat, chat to the passenger beside us, merge across three lane motorways – while the other part of our brain is thinking about what we’ll have for dinner that night.

But every day, regardless of whether we’re “in the moment” or not, we have to rely heavily on collaboration to get to our destination safely.  If you ever drive along a busy dual carriageway it can be fascinating to watch cars move in and out between the lanes and synergise with one another, as if each knows what the other is doing.

Added to this, more often than not, we presume that everyone will always abide by the rules.

Red lights, stop.

Bus lanes are for buses.

No mobile phones.

Stick to speed limits.

Now some of us stick by the rules, and some do not. We can question why and how some of these rules came into play in the first instance and can often forget the collaboration that is required to ensure millions of road-users can use the road at the same time…safely. Because we actually don’t know the next move of the driver in front of us, a proactive approach is required (like the seat-belt for instance), and many’s a time this comes about because of a reaction to a negative incident.  

We need engineers for planning and to ensure our traffic lights are working smoothly; we need mechanics to ensure our cars are roadworthy; we need our council for sign and road markings; we need our Gardaí for governance; we need provisions made for accessible communications and we need educational campaigns to increase awareness. 

Collaboration is the key to getting to our destinations safely – and all of these same structures, teams and approaches are required for a safer health care service too. It can be extremely difficult to understand and manoeuvre between all of the different services and teams but one thing is for sure –  we all need to take responsibility for ourselves and for every other road user too – always remembering to expect the unexpected.  

So how do we keep on improving on services while preventing possible accidents along the way? And when accidents do happen, is it good enough to just put a “Danger Accident Black Spot” sign up and not actually change the structure of the road? 

It’s simple – we need listen to what every stakeholder needs. We need to learn from the negatives and the positives – and then improve on the quality of services based on these needs.

So this is what the HSE’s Quality Improvement Division are aiming to do. One of the priority focus areas of this division for 2015 is person centered care and they want to ensure that the voice of patients, their advocates and representatives are heard, and are central to how they design and deliver their services.

Now with this being the first meeting of the Forum, I was quite fascinated to see so many diverse groups willing to give up their time and work together on behalf of their users, to help improve services. I felt it was good too, to have this first initial meeting to give everyone a chance to meet one another and to discuss what expectations the organisations themselves had of the Forum. The Quality Improvement Division’s hope going forward is that organisations can discuss and provide feedback on a range of issues of national significance that have an impact on the experience of patients and service users accessing our health services, and then this feedback, can be communicated to the relevant HSE divisions and clinical care programmes.

To open the day, the National Director of Quality Improvement, Dr Philip Crowley started talking about the importance of kindness in our health care services.  Yes, he said, there were many, many things that needed changing and the past few years of austerity had had its toll on health services across the country but that each and every one of us can still play our part by showing just a little bit of kindness to one another. 

I sat there listening, meaning to take notes because I wanted to remember everything that was being said, but I stopped what I was doing because this is exactly what I think person centered care is all about.

Remember those rules on the road from earlier that we should all abide to? Now what would be the harm, if we just added a bit of kindness to them?

I know I am always grateful when the tractor pulls in to let myself and other drivers by. Or when a car flashes to allow me to cross the road safely. Or when someone offers to fill my tank at the petrol station. Or when the truck driver allows me to pull out of a busy parking space.

Kindness always restores my faith in humanity – and simply makes me feel better.

If we were to combine this simple approach with the right structures, teams and collaboration, in our health services, I really feel we could be on to something.

And this is what the Forum was made for. During the meeting we all broke into groups to discuss the expectations from the representatives and service users from the various organisations about the Forum and even though each table had different ways on how they approached the discussion, every one of them still had many of the same visions and hopes. This outbreak session was then followed by Public Health Doctor, Dr.Carmel Mullaney and I both showcasing separately, the different self-management projects that we are working on – thus showing how we can ourselves both work together in the ideal “patient plus professional partnership”.

After an interesting morning of discussions, Director of Advocacy, Greg Price, then closed the session and thanked everybody who attended, including his team in the Quality Improvement Division for their support.

At this moment, I looked around and realised that if everyone could really pull together on this one and truly collaborate then they would be showing our whole health service a level of kindness that could be truly outstanding.  

Yes, everyone has their own or their organisations unique health issues to advocate for, but the reality is, no matter what type of patient you are, a lot of the time, the same issues come up, again and again – for each and every one of us.

And so as I always say–

We’re all here to either get better or to help someone get better…

Collaboration is Key.

(And kindness is an added bonus!)