It is now 12 months since Healthwatch Surrey recruited seven Citizen Ambassadors (CAs) with the express purpose of playing “a full and active part” in the “transformation programme in health and social care”.  In practice this means providing an independent citizen perspective within the Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System’s transformation workstreams and proactively seeking out “unengaged voices” so that they can be heard.

Healthwatch Surrey convened a meeting with the CAs to review the past year and to plan for the coming 12 months.  Nothing dramatic or traumatic was unearthed in this exercise, but some interesting observations were made and learnings shared.

During the discussion the CAs cited numerous examples of service excellence across all areas and a consistent passion for and commitment to further improvement in the NHS in Surrey.  It was however also observed that the service patients received was not always consistent and in some places there appeared to be a lack of peer comparison and awareness of best practice elsewhere.

Everyone stressed the need for good communication.  Many examples were given of excellent dialogues but there were also instances where anxiety was materially increased by poor consideration of the patients’ needs to know.  A significant proportion of the difficulties arose due to what was perceived as a difference in perspective between the patient and the clinical staff and importance of managing expectations was clearly key to a positive experience.

It has not proven easy for all the CAs to get established within their respective workstreams, but with persistence and good will on all sides the initial barriers have been overcome and the value of an independent perspective is well understood.  Being a CA can have many frustrations, as we try to best fulfil our roles within the individual workstreams, but nevertheless all of the CAs have wanted to renew our annual contracts as we feel that we now better understand and believe that we have a valuable contribution to make.

Lawrence Nichols
Healthwatch Surrey Citizen Ambassador associated with the Digital Programme