Shifting the NHS backlog is vital, as we found in our survey Patient experience before the omicron wave: the storm before the storm.

Our survey showed patients do not think the health and care system will be able to provide high quality care very well after the pandemic, feel they had not been kept informed about what was happening with their care, and did not feel they had been listened to.

By engaging patients, these issues might not have been so prevalent. And if we engaged patients more, then this could help with the NHS backlog. That was the unanimous feeling among my fellow panellists at webinar convened by the HSJ in February 2022 to discuss whether greater patient engagement could help with a more efficient management of the backlog.

It was expertly hosted by HSJ’s Claire Read, and my fellow panellists were Chris McCann, interim national director, Healthwatch England, Richard Sloggett, founder and programme director, Future Health Research, Ruth Evans, managing director, Patient Experience Network, Jane Tyacke, director of strategy and business development – healthcare, Salesforce.

Engagement the patient’s way

Engaging patients can save time by caring and supporting them in a way they have chosen. It’s obvious that the NHS won’t know what patients want without involving them, yet this is not happening. But the panel agreed that it’s worth considering not every patient wishes to be engaged. And that’s ok. It’s, therefore, about providing the choice for patients to be engaged or not.

There needs to be a choice of the type of engagement, too. By ensuring that patients are contacting healthcare professionals and vice versa in the manner that the patient wants, will ensure patients feel in control and, therefore, more supported. This could be as simple as whether patients are making phone calls or going online, where people often have a very strong preference for one over the other.

Improved communication

In the delivery plan on tackling the backlog of elective care, NHS England vows to ensure there is better communication with patients, more listening to patients, and an increase in working in partnership with patients to improve outcomes. All of us on the panel thought this was great news.

We felt what was needed is for patients to feel less of a “us and them” situation with healthcare proessionals and, instead, a true partnership. Also, for patients to feel more in control of their care. We thought it was good to see that the elective delivery plan also considers this. The plan is giving patients the right to swap to a different provider, ensures doctors work in partnership with patients when an appointment will most benefit them, and gives patients the opportunity to cancel and rebook.