When public organisations consider changing their policies or the way they work a public consultation is considered as essential these days. This is only right and proper because organisations and policies that serve the public should be open and transparent. One way of doing this is to ensure that the activities of the organisation are informed by the public, especially those with lived experience of the services that it provides.  

But it is important that public consultations are done properly. Efforts should be made to ensure that there is diversity among people consulted, both in terms of demographic characteristics and in the range of experiences and views of the topic being consulted on. They should also be given appropriate support to participate taking into account for example, language and terminology used and if possible, remunerated for participating. Collecting and reporting people’s views should be done impartially and protect individual confidentiality. And findings from a consultation should receive serious reflection and be acted upon where possible and appropriate.  All of this requires particular expertise. This applies especially to health, where public trust in healthcare organisations has taken several knocks in recent years.  

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the official regulator for 15 different health care professions, including chiropodists, dietitians, occupational therapists, paramedics, and physiotherapists. The HCPC has recently undertaken a public consultation about the professional standards that these health care professions should follow. The HCPC was keen to get the views of patients, service users and family carers about proposed changes to these standards. In particular, the HCPC wanted to hear from older people and people at risk of health inequalities. To do that, it asked for help from the Patients Association.  

The Patients Association organised an online focus group involving eight people in June 2023, through a call out to its membership. The group included four people aged 55 and over, five people from minority communities, and three family carers. Between them, the group’s members lived with a range of health conditions.  

The Patients Association worked with the HCPC to agree what the regulator wanted the group to focus on but no one from the HCPC took part in the group’s discussion to ensure impartiality.  

The group received information about the proposed new standards before the discussion and members came to the meeting with lots of useful comments and suggestions about the proposals. Members of the group emphasised the importance of providing clear information to people using healthcare services about how they could raise a concern if they believed a standard had been broken. The HCPC is currently considering the focus group’s suggestions  

The last word should go to one of the focus group participants, describing the process of being consulted: 

“Really positive engagement with the Patients Association…the NHS and everything within it and all the wrongs have got a long way to go, but there is this small army of us trying to do it right, and push it forwards. And I know that is so valued by my GP.”