Monday, 28 July 2014

Hearing the homeless - working for best services

We all favour client participation, joint working with key partners, having a strategic vision and making a difference. But how do we do it? How do we make sure one of the key elements is not lost or ignored? Some may say there isn't always an easy answer to this. Some recent work between Healthwatch Leeds and Leeds Community Healthcare / York Street Health Practice offer a good model of how this can happen. In this blog two of the participants describe the work and its lessons.

Healthwatch Leeds is committed to a great vision - 'Healthwatch Leeds gives people a powerful voice on health and social care services in Leeds and beyond. Healthwatch Leeds helps the people of Leeds to get the best out of their local health and social care services, whether it's improving them today or helping to shape them for tomorrow. Healthwatch Leeds is all about local voices being able to influence the delivery and design of local services. Not just people who use them, but anyone who might need to in future'. Healthwatch is the official body that represents patient voice and concerns in the field of health and social care. Its work is vital and everybody in health and social care should actively and positively welcome it. 

Healthwatch Leeds contacted York Street Practice as it needed to produce a report on homeless people and health in Leeds for the Health and Wellbeing Board. The two agencies had already met and were both committed to the provision of the best patient care and experience possible in the city. In the conversation about the report, York Street decided not to host the event for the voice of the homeless to be heard. The reason was we wanted a neutral place where our patients could speak and be as open and honest as possible. We discussed with two key partners in the city - St Anne's Resource Centre and St George's Crypt. They agreed to host the event where Parveen Ayub, Community Project Worker, and volunteers at Healthwatch could meet homeless people and talk to them about health issues and services in Leeds. This work was supported by the agencies involved. It was written into a report that was presented to the Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board. The report looked at difficulties homeless people encounter when accessing health and social care services and the impact it has on their health and well-being. The report supported outcome 5 of the Leeds Joint Health and Well-Being Strategy 2013-15. In this way the voices of those who have few to speak for them was presented to the key strategic health and social care body in Leeds. The homeless were heard! 

To us this linked together many key needs. These include; positive partnerships between health and patient groups, allowing the patient to be heard in neutral but supportive environments that they trust, for patient groups to reach out to where people are, for those without power and a voice to be supported so their voice and needs are heard and for the leading authorities in the city to have this presented to them so they can feature it into their work for the whole city. This circle approach - from patients to strategy - from patient groups to health services - from the creation of positive space where dialogue can occur to changes in the system - all offer great hope and models of how we can work. 

This is how we can make Leeds the best city for health and wellbeing. It's a tremendous thing that we can work to make sure that not only the poorest receive healthcare the fastest but that their voice can be heard quickly through initiatives such as this. This might be the first time in the UK that Healthwatch and a health service have written a joint article celebrating joint great work and offering a key model of how we can work for the vulnerable. If it isn't the first time that's good. If it is, that's something good too. We see what we have tried to describe as best practice for those most in need now and a promise what future work can look like. Hearing the homeless and vulnerable is how we work for best services.

Parveen Ayub -  Healthwatch Leeds

John Walsh - York Street Health Practice

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