Rob Barnett: Healthwatch, the consumer watchdog for services

Rob Barnett visited Healthwatch Sheffield as part of Sheffield Flourish’s theme for May: Your experiences of mental health services. He spoke to Healthwatch Sheffield’s chief executive Margaret Kilner.

Did you know Sheffield has a local consumer watchdog for health and social care services?

Healthwatch Sheffield helps adults, children and young people influence and improve how services, including mental health services, are designed and run.

People generally find it easier giving positive feedback to services, than negative feedback, such as making a complaint. They may worry that by complaining they will consequently suffer, such as through the quality of service they receive.

As Healthwatch Sheffield is completely independent, so not part of the NHS or Sheffield City Council, it is somewhere people can give honest feedback about their experience of services like mental health.

This of course can be positive feedback, like much of the input on Healthwatch Sheffield’s ‘Rate and Review’ website, which the ogranisation’s friendly chief executive Margaret Kilner describes as being like Trip Advisor for local health and social care services.

Whether positive or negative, Healthwatch Sheffield can raise issues with the relevant services while those who offered the feedback can remain anonymous if they wish to.

Margaret says: “There’s a formal complaints process but what about if it’s that you just really hate the way a text reminder is worded? You find that really stressful and you wish they wouldn’t send you so many of those messages. It’s not easy always to give that kind of feedback.

“Or if you found that the doctor was dismissive and didn’t properly listen, how do you get that across to somebody? People worry about ‘well if I tell a member of staff, what if they’re good friends with that doctor?’.

“So one of the ways we can help, is by being there for people if they find themselves in that awkward situation. They can remain anonymous and we can share their story. Or they can give us their details and we can act as a conduit between them and the service.”

Healthwatch Sheffield, which is based at The Circle on Rockingham Lane in the city centre, also help people to understand what they can expect from health and social care services.

Margaret explains: “One of the things people have told us about mental health services is that they want to understand at the beginning of their treatment what options are available to them, and what they can expect ‘how many sessions will they be offered?’, ‘how long will the sessions take?’, ‘are there any alternatives?’, ‘how long will it be before they can come back into the service?’.

Healthwatch Sheffield is one 152 local Healthwatches that feed their reports of people’s experiences to Healthwatch England. Healthwatch England can then raise issues at a national level.

The Sheffield branch has been asking what people find best maintains their mental health.

Local people’s feedback is that time with friends and family, listening to music and time in nature are the top activities.

However, when asked which activities they wanted to do more, people said time in nature (68% of 223 people) and dancing (58% of 223 people). So Healthwatch Sheffield is keen to find out how to make both these and other activities more accessible.

So whatever your experience of health and social care services, including mental health, Healthwatch Sheffield is there to champion your views and ideas.

Why not check out its website? healthwatchsheffield.co.uk

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