I’m very excited to be able to present our new strategy for the next five years, True Patient Partnership. It’s the product of a lot of hard work over the course of 2020: despite the challenges of the pandemic, which required us to switch to working from home across the country, we knew we had to plan for the long term. The focus we arrived at, of patient partnership, will guide us clearly through the next five years, while also having strong roots in the Patients Association’s work all through its history, right back to its foundation nearly 60 years ago.

Over those six decades it has become widely accepted that patients should be actively involved not only in decisions about their own care, but in the shaping of the health and care system as a whole. Back in the 1960s, the idea that patients might have both rights and useful insight to offer was a radical one that was often challenged; thanks in no small part to the persistence of the Patients Association, these are ideas that few people would now challenge.

Securing patients’ position as genuine partners has, however, proved a much greater challenge than securing acceptance of that principle. In the emergency period of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ease with which patient involvement can be swept aside has been alarmingly demonstrated. At times, the willingness of the system to think in terms of what works for itself first, and for patients second (if at all), has been striking and worrying.

But patient partnership would be an essential principle even without a crisis situation. We know that even before COVID struck, our health and care system was labouring under the weight of multiple structural problems, including sustained under-funding, a growing workforce shortage and the long-term crisis in adult social care. Decisions about the resources available for health and care will be one critical factor in overcoming these problems during the recovery from COVID-19, but the other will be whether or not patients are properly made part of what happens. If a recovery is attempted that does not understand patients’ needs and perspectives, it cannot fully succeed, and is doomed to miss repeated opportunities to get things right.

Over the next five years we will therefore renew the push for patient partnership. It must be adopted not just in formal systems and ways of working, but in the cultures and values of everyone involved in health and care. Immediate tests will arise from measures to restart services that have been disrupted by the winter wave of COVID, and in the measures to establish Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) as new formal NHS bodies. There will no doubt be many more opportunities to embed patient partnership across the health and care system in the years to come, and we look forward to working with everyone who shares our vision to achieve this.

Rachel Power
Chief Executive