Posted by: ayrshirehealth | August 28, 2013

Community Engagement: it’s time has come by @sandywatsonnhst

Sandy WatsonFinal blog for August, rounding off a month of blogs by Chairs of NHS Scotland Boards is this week’s blogger,

Sandy Watson, Chairman, NHS Tayside Board

and Chairman of the Scottish NHS Board Chairs’ Group

discussing the importance of community engagement and explains why he thinks ‘it’s time has come’.

Community Engagement

In the current context of the integration of health and adult social care, and the need to reconfigure/ redesign services, community engagement needs a much higher priority across the whole public sector than it has had to date.

The New Economics Foundation and NESTA put it very succinctly when they say “people’s needs are better met when they are involved in an equal and reciprocal relationship with professionals and others, working together to get things done.”

A few thoughts from the perspective of somebody who has worked in the public sector for over 40 years now:

  • In the public sector, we provide services for people. By doing so, we effectively create a culture of dependency.
  • We say a lot about partnerships – partnerships across the public sector, with the voluntary sector, with the private sector, but partnership with users has to be the way forward. We need to start from where people are.
  • We have to get better at explaining to the public what we are about and at gaining public ownership of the way ahead putting it into terms that are intelligible.
  • Training is of fundamental importance. Training for staff, preferably on an interagency basis, including the voluntary sector will equip them to relate to communities in a different way. Recognising people as assets and building capacity for communities will enable them to respond appropriately to public agencies coming at them in a different way – as facilitators and enablers, rather than as direct service providers.

Specialist, local insights

More than 10 years ago, NHS Tayside was facing a public backlash from the communities around Stracathro Hospital in Brechin as the public felt that their local hospital was under threat and the ‘powers-that-be’ were simply not listening. StracathroThis was an abrupt wake-up call to the Board that we had to go out to our communities and really listen to them. We now know that the people in our communities are real assets for us. They are our resident experts and have the specialist, local insights into what services they need and where.

We have recently seen the turnaround of the community in Blairgowrie who were, at first, distressed about potential changes to the local Blairgowrie Community Hospital. Following a public meeting where more than 200 members of the community came to raise their concerns about the future of the hospital, we set up a community-led group – the Strathmore Focus Group – to discuss and help influence the improvement and redesign of local health services. Now, nearly two years on, the group has helped design the redevelopment at the hospital and helps takes responsibility for the informing and engaging of the wider local community.

We are committed to real grass roots engagement and our Timmergreens community project in Arbroath called Timmers Together stands testament to this. We are working with this local community which has poorer health outcomes and employability levels, along with our partner agencies, to help support them to help themselves. Three local residents have now received training in a programme called Connecting Communities so they can lead their own communities and be better equipped to make things happen for their own families and their neighbours.

Social Media

We have found that social media has opened a new door for us to reach out to more people of all ages. We have found it an invaluable tool to engage with our service users and promote two way communication, different from other forms of media. FB and TwitterWe monitor our social media channels for themes in questions, feedback, compliments and complaints. This allows us to ask questions of those who “like” or visit our Facebook page and Twitter account and interact in a way with our communities which is quicker than ever before.

Social media certainly has its place, especially with younger people, but we like also to make sure we’re still engaging face-to-face and that’s why we set up NHS Tayside’s Youth Talkin’ Health. This forum is made up of young people 14 to 22 years old from Dundee, Angus and Perth & Kinross local authority areas, who work together with the aim of improving services for young people. They give us a unique insight into what it feels like to be a young person in 2013 and are able to visit services giving feedback on improvements and suggesting better ways of enhancing quality and access as well as keeping us right on the use of new technologies.

We want to steer the boat, not just row

I remember asking a young man in an interview for a post in the Dialogue Youth Initiative, “What do young people want out of this?” That young man’s response has always stuck with me – “We want to help to steer the boat, not just row it.” But it is not just involvement in steering and rowing the boat we are now talking about. It is also involvement in building the boat. It is about helping people in communities to identify their priorities, and then using the people to help deliver the services to meet these priorities. We need to put that change into words which the public understand. It is a change of culture – not just another initiative.

Next week @micmac650 makes a welcome return to Ayrshirehealth with his second blog of 2013; leading off a month of blogs by medics:

04.09.13 – @micmac650 (Mark MacGregor)

11.09.13 – TBC

18.09.13 – @BigFlip14 (Phil Korsah)

and rounding off September (25.09.13) is guest blogger, and blog master of DGHealth, @kendonaldson (Ken Donaldson)


  1. […] Community engagement: it’s time has come […]

  2. […] of that workplace but who need to use the services – and to listen carefully to them. In Community engagement: its time has come, Sandy Watson, Chair of the NHS Tayside Board and Chair of the Scottish NHS Board Chairs’ […]

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