Practice acting on patients’ concerns

Practice manager John Wallace and Marion Fenwick, chairman of the Academy Medical Centre Patient Participation Group.
Practice manager John Wallace and Marion Fenwick, chairman of the Academy Medical Centre Patient Participation Group.

THE introduction of a patient participation group at the Academy Medical Centre just over a year ago is paying dividends for patients and staff alike.

The group has already instigated a number of new projects and has carried out a patient survey – the results of which are now being acted upon.

Group chairman Marion Fenwick and member Gordon Snedden have reported on a number of initiatives which are in the pipe-line for 2012, and later this month they will give a talk to practice managers from all over Angus in the hope of encouraging more PPG’s to be set up.

As one of only a handful in Scotland, the Academy Medical Centre PPG was established after a successful open meeting in October 2010.

Around 60 patients attended the meeting, and from there the group was formed and now meets monthly.

The aim of the group is to consult and plan with patients, whenever possible, on the facilities and provision of services, and to bring a sense of ownership and partnership between practice staff and patients.

The group also gives practice staff (there are around 40 staff members and eight G.P.s) and patients the opportunity to discuss topics of mutual interest, and allows patients to make positive suggestions about the practice and their own health care. It also aims to develop self-help projects to meet the needs of fellow patients, and acts as a representative group.

One of the major success stories of the last year has been the establishment of an information shop in the reception area at the practice, which opened in October.

Manned by NHS-trained volunteers every morning, it has a wealth of information pertinent to various health initiatives.

Another successful outcome has been the practice’s willingness to react to issues raised by patients, which have included changes to the appointment system and the appointment in the new year of a new doctor.

The surgery has also extended its opening hours by two and a half hours a week, opening at 7 am on a Monday morning with appointments up to 7 pm (only on Mondays and except for public holidays).

John Wallace, practice manager, explained: “The reason the PPG was set up was because the surgery thought it would be beneficial to have a partnership between the public and the practice. The practice was well aware of the problems with the appointment system, but the idea about setting up the PPG wasn’t just to discuss that; it was about having real engagement.”

With only three other PPG’s in Scotland, the Academy Medical Centre’s group is leading the way in opening up channels of communication between patients and practice staff.

The opening of the health information shop was a result of discussions over the past year. The group decided it would be a good idea to do health promotions and their efforts were backed by the Angus Community Health Partnership.

Gordon said: “The health shop covers information on local groups, various health weeks and support groups. It also gives out general information to patients on any particular illness they might be interested in.”

Another major initiative undertaken by the group was a survey completed by 340 out of the practice’s 11,000 patients. It covered a range of questions from booking appointments, how to make a complaint, practice opening hours and the role of the triage nurses.

The group has now set up an action plan to deal with the responses, including improving awareness of its role, the understanding of the practice’s triage arrangements, appointment availability and the overall experience of patients.

John continued: “It has been a developmental year. It has been about getting the group established, working well. The group has set their own agenda – it’s the PPG’s agenda, not the practice saying what should be discussed.

“One of the key ground rules is that the PPG is not a forum for personal complaint. The group can represent the views of people, and have done that well. They can challenge us on the use of jargon, the phone system and we have made changes.

“It is valuable being challenged about things. We are not resting on our laurels and have noticed in the PPG survey that we have increased our capacity and there has been less dis-satisfaction.”

Marion continued: “It is about working with the staff, not so much building bridges. It’s about consultation and working with staff to improve the services for patients.”

Through monthly meetings members raise a number of issues, but they don’t take on board complaints against the NHS or the practice as there are other avenues and formal procedures for that.

Marion continued: “We listen to what people are telling us. It took quite a while to get the survey accumulated. One of the biggest things was the phone system. People couldn’t get through between 8 and 8.30 in the morning and possibly the lack of doctor appointments. But as from January the practice is employing another G.P.”

Marion and Gordon are now hoping to spread the word to other practices throughout Scotland about the benefits of setting up a PPG.

Gordon said: “I think there would be a lot of practices which would be fearful of having a patient group involved; probably this practice initially had that feeling as well. What Marion and I would like to do is to try to spread the word that there is nothing to worry about, it is beneficial for the practice and the patients. The group has really worked well – it’s discussion rather than argument.”

The PPG already has plans for 2012, including attracting more volunteers for the shop and to encourage practice nurses and GPs to direct patients to the shop.

The group also hopes to run open health events for patients and develop a calendar of events throughout the year.

Anyone with an issue they wish to raise with the PPG are advised to view the group’s page on the practice website or contact reception.