Belfast Telegraph

Patients need reassurance to ward off hospital fears

The health service needs to be more transparent in future. The public deserves to see accountability put into practice, says Maeve Hully

The last few weeks have been a challenging time for health and social care in Northern Ireland. Early last month, there were difficulties in Antrim Area Hospital's accident and emergency department, with patients describing long waits in cramped conditions with overworked staff.

This was followed by the pseudomonas infection in the neonatal units of three of our major hospitals.

This is a very difficult time for people using the affected services and particularly worrying for parents and their families using neonatal units.

We urgently need to do two things. Firstly, step back and see that hundreds of people are receiving timely, good quality, safe care every minute of every day. Secondly, the public and service users need to be reassured that health and social care services in these affected areas are safe.

Who is responsible for reassuring people that services are safe? There are a number of organisations with responsibilities for the provision of health and social care, including the Department of Health, the Health and Social Care Board, Public Health Agency, health and social care trusts and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.

We at the Patient and Client Council know from speaking to people that they want clear and accessible information. This must be accurate, timely and easy to understand. When an outbreak like pseudomonas occurs, people are left feeling there is an information gap, which can lead to frustration and worry.

In turn, they use the media to ask their questions and share their frustrations. The resulting adversarial discussions and speculation can further increase anxieties.

At times of heightened concern, there is a need to increase both the frequency and clarity of communication and the level of detail. Improving communication between staff and service users is a major concern for people.

Radical changes to the way our health and social care services are delivered have been described in the recently published Transforming Your Care - a review of health and social care in Northern Ireland.

People have been telling us for some time about the need for change in service delivery.

This report describes a shift away from care in acute settings which will require systematic change to the way services are managed. It would be unrealistic to expect that such major changes can be made without significant service disruption.

It is essential that during this major change patients and service users are listened to and reassured that both the existing services and the planned new services are, and will be, safe and fit-for-purpose.

The challenge in this ongoing implementation of the review is that the public are kept informed and involved in decisions. People need to know what changes mean for them.

This will require health and social care providers to be more transparent. People want visible accountability; to know that standards exist and know how they are monitored.

Listening to patient views and concerns is at the centre of everything we do. We are part of the health and social care system and provide an independent voice for patients, clients and carers. By being a critical friend in this system, we are best-placed to influence the services which people value.

Local offices are based throughout Northern Ireland. You can contact us on 0800 917 0222 or e-mail info.pcc@hscni.net. The Patient and Client Council is committed to ensuring the voice of people continues to be heard and acted upon by the leaders of health and social care.

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