Hospitals, health trusts and GP surgeries are there to provide high quality services that are suitable for everyone who uses them. Many now realise that talking with local people can help them to understand the needs of the local population and to make things better for everyone. There are a number of ways you can get involved in helping to improve health care in your local area.
Whenever decisions are being made about health services, having different people with different experiences involved helps ensure those decisions are as considered as possible. They can contribute new ideas and perspectives that others may not have considered. Having lesbian, gay and bisexual people around the table, with their diversity of experiences, benefits everyone.
Many people get involved with the NHS because they believe good quality healthcare is something everyone should have access to. You may want to get involved to help ensure that money is well spent or to help and support patients and their families going through a difficult time.
You may however have important experiences to offer. Everyone’s health is individual to them but gay people can have greater or lesser needs of certain services or have different experiences of the NHS. Both as a patient and as a lesbian, gay or bisexual person your experiences can be learnt from.
Research has shown for example that half of lesbian and bisexual women have had negative experiences in the health sector in the last year, and just three in ten say that healthcare workers did not make inappropriate comments when they came out. It has also shown, amongst other things, that there are serious inequalities in LGB people’s mental health compared to the general population.
By volunteering in the NHS you can help it deliver better healthcare for everyone, including lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
Whether you want to make a regular commitment, or you’re only able to volunteer for a few hours now and then, there are opportunities to suit you. Whether volunteering at a local health charity, contributing though an official NHS board, spending time with patients, or simply writing a review on a website, you can help make a difference.
Why not take a look at the different ways you can get involved:
You may not have the time to volunteer for a specific role but there is still plenty you can do to help improve the health service in your local area for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. You could:
If your local hospital is a Foundation Trust (check here to find out), you can become a member of the Trust. Foundation Trust hospitals are directly accountable to their local community and membership allows you to feed your experiences and knowledge back into your local hospital in a wide range of ways.
As a member you can choose a level of involvement to suit you. To begin with you may only want to receive the newsletter or take part in the odd survey or discussion group. If you wish to get further involved you could stand for election to the Board of Governors or Directors (as a non-executive director) or even as Chair of the Trust.
To become a member you have to be a local resident, carer or staff or have been a patient or carer at the hospital to qualify. To show a sign of commitment all members must agree to pay a token sum (maximum £1) to the Trust. This is not a membership fee, and members won’t be required to pay a regular subscription.
Local Involvement Networks (LINks) allow local people to directly shape the health and social care services they receive. They’re made up of individuals and community groups, such as faith groups and residents' associations, working together to improve services.
LINks are likely to change name to HealthWatch. It is proposed that local HealthWatch will perform a similar role to LINks by ensuring that the views of patients, carers and the public are represented.
They are a great way to get involved if you want to speak up and voice the health needs and experiences of your community, to draw attention to a neglected issue or idea, or to directly influence those making decisions about healthcare in your area.
If you want to get involved browse the service directory on the NHS website or call up your local council to find out what’s going on in your area.
Patient Associations (PAs) and Patient Participation Groups (PPGs) allow you to directly input into healthcare services in your area by working together with GP surgeries and health centres to help them improve their services and promote health in the local community.
These patient groups also help to keep health providers informed about whether their systems are working by carrying out patient surveys. In some cases PAs and PPGs may also lobby local healthcare providers to improve their delivery of specific services.
You can join your local PA or PPG through the National Association of Patient Participation. Or if there isn’t one in your area they can help you to set one up. For more information visit:
www.napp.org.uk or www.growingppgs.com
You can start to help improving your local healthcare services simply by calling up your local hospital or GP surgery to ask if they could use a volunteer.
There are also many charities in the UK that focus on health issues, and most are usually in need of extra volunteers - on a regular or irregular basis.
An advantage of this sort of volunteering is that it’s up to you how much time you can afford to give. But even a few hours each week can make a huge difference.
For more information about volunteering in your local hospital www.timebank.org.uk/idea/in-a-hospital
A simple but important way that you can play an active role in improving the quality of healthcare services in your area is by telling people about your experiences - whether good or bad. This can help them make informed decisions about their own health choices.
There are many websites that allow you to write your opinions, experiences and ideas on local health services, such as hospitals, GPs, dentists and much more. For more information and for websites that you can feed your experiences into browse these links:
NHS Service Directories - www.nhs.uk/servicedirectories/Pages/ServiceSearch.aspx
Patient Opinion - www.patientopinion.org.uk
Patients Association - www.patients-association.com
National Institute for Clinical Excellence - www.nice.org.uk/getinvolved/patientsandpublic/patientandpublichome.jsp
Use the search engine on www.nhs.uk to find out more.
If you’ve had negative experiences of the NHS you should report them. To find out how to do this visit www.stonewall.org.uk/at_home/health/2661.asp or visit the Patient Advice and Liaison Service at www.pals.nhs.uk.