Patient engagement makes things better, so why do we ignore it?

Posted on: 02-05-2018 by Ruta Sapatkaite


Patient engagement makes things better, so why do we ignore it?

Last month The King’s Fund held an event ‘Health and care explained: how the system works and how it is changing’. This event was aimed at anyone working in the NHS, public, private, academic and third sector who wanted to gain a greater understanding of how the health and care system currently works and how it is changing.

I had a chance to attend the event and get a better understanding of the current heath and care system, the challenges it faces and how it is changing. The event included various sessions covered by speakers from both medical and commercial backgrounds.

The topics from the sessions ranged from explanation of the health and care system and its funding, NHS reforms, and new models of commissioning and public perception towards the NHS. Some of the key themes and interesting facts that I took away were:

  • Health tourism has been identified as a big strain on NHS in the press recently. It costs £60m a year which, while seemingly expensive, is actually only 1/20 of 1% of the annual NHS budget (which currently is £122bn).
  • The current budget for public health consists of £21 per person spent by NHS and £60 per person spent by local governments. Public grants that finance public health will be cut on 2020/2021 and revenue will have to be sourced from local/private fundraising.
  • STPs were originally created to deliver the Five Year Forward plan and to engage various organisations to think about the future. It has evolved over time to become more of a financial conversation about cutting costs and reducing services etc.
  • Digital innovation is being slowly implemented into the NHS system and a lot of funding is provided to making the NHS paperless. Predictions by The King’s Fund researcher Harry Edwards were that by the end of 2018 there will be a NHS App and more areas will be moving to electronic patient records. In addition, Artificial Intelligence will be trialled for clinical decision making in one hospital (although he emphasised that it will not necessarily be working accurately by the end of the year as technology implementation on this scale is very complicated).
  • Recent research has identified that the public has a strong support to maintain the NHS in its current form despite the increase in the number of dissatisfied NHS service users.

After a full day conference I personally found that, from all of the issues raised, patient engagement and experience did not seem to be a main focus of the health sector (due to the current financial and performance pressures). Budget cutting, not enough staff members and winter pressures drew focus towards bigger problems, although patient engagement was emphasised as an area that requires attention and improvement.

I strongly believe that implementing more of a patient focused approach and collaborative working could help improve services, patient trust and make it more efficient.

These are the key messages MES is trying to convey through the upcoming ‘Challenge 2020: Engagement in Action’ conference. This year’s conference will specifically focus on practical examples of good, meaningful engagement and will include a variety of workshops and quality speakers from the health sector and beyond.

In these challenging times there are organisations that represent great engagement practice, and we’ve encouraged them to share their achievements by nominating themselves for our MES Engagement Champion Award. Sharing good practices and results could inspire other organisations to think creatively about patient and staff engagement as well as use (or replicate) good practice demonstrated elsewhere. At MES we believe in the importance of acknowledging and sharing great practices and success stories, so let us know if anything you are doing at your organisation. You could well inspire others to make those small changes that could lead to better engagement.

In 2018 ‘Challenge 2020’ returns with a closer look at Engagement in Action. Challenge 2020 is MES’s series of annual conferences dedicated to different aspects of public, patient and staff engagement in health. This year’s conference will focus on practical examples of good, meaningful engagement and will include a variety of workshops and quality speakers from the health sector and beyond. It will take place on Tuesday 22nd May at Rooms on Regent’s Park.

There are still tickets available.  Please visit for more details or email