Introducing NHSX's patient and public voice partners

Linn Phipps and Michelle Thompson, NHSX’s strategic patient, public voice partners

We are Linn Phipps and Michelle Thompson, and this is our first blog as NHSX’s strategic patient and public voice partners (PPVs).

We're enthusiastic about the potential for digital technology to transform the care that people receive throughout the NHS and social care, and we’re blogging because we are keen to share what we are doing in the open.

While the NHS is strongly focused on the idea of involving patients, we think that it needs more challenge to do this more consistently and strategically, which is why we became PPVs at NHSX.

We wanted to set out what being a PPV partner means; what we have been doing as PPV partners; some reflections on what we have heard; and what we’d like to see in the future.

To start with, our role is twofold. 

First, we’re here in a ‘lay’ capacity to champion patient involvement and to make sure that patients’ and people’s voices are heard and acted upon across NHSX’s programmes at all levels, while providing constructive challenge on the difference this is making. 

Second, we are focussing on particular programmes of work so that we can ‘get under the bonnet’. For example, one of us is particularly invested in NHSX’s work on remote monitoring and supporting people in their homes, while the other is interested in NHSX’s work to digitise social care, and how the unit’s communications reaches local, grassroots communities and audiences.  

There has been a massive shift to digital health and care since March due to the global pandemic. And while this has enabled access to healthcare for many people, we know that for others digital exclusion is a significant issue. This exclusion can be caused by a lack of internet access, differing levels of digital literacy, location, culture, language and disabilities. We are also conscious that COVID-19 has impacted certain groups disproportionately, and this means we’re particularly keen to make sure NHSX listens to the communities who are often the least heard. 

We first started as PPV partners in April this year, and we took part in a variety of induction activities to get ourselves accustomed to NHSX and its work. This included a range of virtual one to one meetings with programme leads including for national citizen-facing digital products and services; standards and interoperability; digital transformation; the head of equalities and inclusion; and the head of strategy. 

A few of the things we have contributed to since then include: 

  • Attending NHSX’s Senior Leadership Team, feeding into discussions on its governance and its spending review bid for HM Treasury. 
  • Contributing to the planning and hosting of a workshop with patients with ‘lived experience’, jointly organised by NHSX and NHS England and NHS Improvement, on the beneficial changes arising from the expanded use of digital approaches to healthcare in light of the pandemic.
  • Being part of a working group developing resources to support programme teams in both NHSX and NHS Digital on what good patient and public involvement looks like from a digital services development perspective.

We also attended the Clinical Advisory Network, a relatively new group bringing together clinicians across NHSX. We felt that Simon Eccles, NHSX’s Deputy CEO and CCIO, made a particularly interesting point that COVID-19 had dramatically changed all NHS departments’ appetites for digital approaches to healthcare. He proposed that this alteration should become a ‘new normal’, and it's important we don't lose the advances we've made on digital developments during the pandemic. At this point we asked about the importance of supporting and upskilling staff during this process, to ensure the transition to digitised healthcare was as smooth as possible. There was also an engaging presentation and discussion on ‘What Good Looks Like’, which outlined how NHSX can develop measures which evaluate both the patient impact and financial costs brought about by digital transitioning. Measuring outcomes and impacts is something we were both particularly concerned with when expressing our interest in becoming patient and public voice partners, and it’s good to know these issues are being actively considered by NHSX.

At a different session with NHSX’s CEO, we questioned how data protection concerns could be appropriately balanced with ease of access for patients and their families, in order to guarantee the maximum provision of help and support by healthcare professionals. For Matthew and the wider NHSX team, the ultimate objective is for individuals to be able to control their data first and foremost, to ensure that patients are able to direct their own personalised healthcare. This is a promising and reassuring proposition.

It’s been an incredibly busy and enlightening first six months as PPV partners with NHSX. 

Going forward we are particularly keen to ensure: 

  • A strong, strategic focus from NHSX on outcomes and evaluation with a particular focus on outcomes for patients
  • Ongoing evidence of co-production in the design, delivery and scale of digital services with patients, people and communities
  • A strategy for inclusive digital transformation so that certain groups aren’t left behind due to a lack of technology, skills or other barriers.

We’ll keep you posted as our work develops in the coming months!

About Linn Phipps

Linn believes passionately that patient and public voices should be heard to have influence on strategy and outcomes. For 20 years Linn has held chair and non-executive director roles in the NHS, from primary care to highly specialised services. She increasingly focuses on lay and PPV roles and currently holds lay member roles with the Department of Health and Social Care's Independent Reconfiguration Panel and the NICE Indicator Advisory Committee. She enthusiastically supports the aspiration to digital first, while also ensuring a co-design and approach, patient-centred outcomes and innovative approaches to digital inclusion. She brings approaches from her coaching and mediation practice. Linn is married with three children and one grandson. 

About Michelle Thompson

Michelle lost her teenage sister to cancer in 1995 and in 2003 at the age of 36, she survived thyroid cancer. Since then she has run, hiked and cycled all over the world raising money and awareness for Macmillan Cancer Support.  By using her voice locally, regionally and nationally throughout her 14 years of volunteering she gained invaluable leadership experience in health and care and voluntary and community sectors. This led to her being presented with the British Empire Medal in 2013 for voluntary, community and charity work in Darlington and County Durham. Michelle is driven by a passion to ensure that the patient, carer, and public voice is not only listened to but understood and acted upon appropriately. She is now the CEO of Healthwatch Darlington, a lay member for patient and public involvement for Tees Valley CCG, and a lay member for the North Joint CCG committee. Michelle is keen to empower people to influence innovative ways in digital communications for health and care services and to ensure access for all within their communities. Michelle is married with two grown-up children and a granddaughter.