Select Committee on Health Written Evidence

89. Evidence submitted by the Royal College of Surgeons of England Patient Liaison Group (PPI 85)


    —  The Patient Liaison Group is well supported by the College

    —  The workload for the group is high and has to be prioritised. Not all requests for input can be met. This seems to reflect experience of other patient and public involvement groups

    —  Public consultations should be live for a minimum of 12 weeks

Brief Introduction to Patient Liaison Group (PLG)

  Membership is made up of twelve lay people and six surgeons, with two other ex officio surgeons. The lay chair is an invited member of College Council. The Group has a full-time administrator funded by the College, access to advice from other College staff and is able to link with the President as required. Lay members are recruited nationally via the press and formal interview. They have direct extensive experience of being surgical patients, family carers of surgical patients and/or membership of patient organisations. Maximum membership of five years ensures regular new members but is long enough for members to develop extensive knowledge of College work and of health policy.

  Lay members represent the Group on approximately 35 other committees and working parties, inside and outside the College. The Group is strongly supported by its surgical members who provide extra insight into the NHS and advice. The Group frequently responds to consultation documents, both under its own name and as contributions to College responses. It develops some of its own work to further its aims, for example a review of research into communication skills and a forthcoming guide to help surgeons improve their patients' journeys. It belongs to and works with the Patient Liaison Group of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. It produces a bi-annual newsletter as an information link and source of feedback between the Group, patients and the College membership.

Factual Information for the Committee to be Aware Of

  The workload for the Patient Liaison Group is high. The lay and surgical members all have limited time to deal with topics that are complex, fast changing, can require extensive liaison with the College and all against a keen responsibility that we must contribute our voice and often challenge directly, for example the recent decision to drop clinical and communication skills examination from the intercollegiate MRCS. The Group could not manage without its full-time administrator and is aware that other royal college groups don't always have equivalent support. The Group works to an annual forward plan and increasingly has to prioritise work as it cannot cover all possible topics and request for input.

  Despite the skills and resource available to the Group, six-week consultation exercises are almost impossible to manage. The Group has had to inform NICE that it cannot respond to their one-month consultations except in very high-priority circumstances and it has had to leave individual members to respond to NICE if they wish.

  Members who are also involved with Patient Forums report similarly high workload and in addition, unlike the RCS Patient Liaison Group, have difficulty in recruiting members.

Recommendations for the Committee to Consider in Its Report

1.   Remit and Level of Independence

  1.1  The independence of LINks should be incontrovertible.

  1.2  We believe professional support of the type provided to CHCs would provide increased effectiveness and a greater reassurance of independence.

2.   Membership and Appointments

  2.1  The PLG wants to be able to use information from LINks to help ensure its own work is representative. LINks work must be easily available via a website which identifies the difficulties in undertaking the work, not just the successful outcomes.

  2.2  We require reassurance that information and recommendations from PPI work in trusts and LINks has been collected objectively by LINks or NHS staff with enough training and resource to follow appropriate methodologies.

  2.3 We want to know that LINks will represent not just "hard to reach groups" but the general body of the public which doesn't fit this category but is still hard to consult and involve. We want reassurance that LINks can prioritise work according to LINks' view of importance, not because of lack of volunteers, effective support for volunteers or training.

3.   Funding and Support

  3.1  There needs to be a greater recognition nationally of the amount of work the changes in healthcare are requiring of volunteers and of the support they need.

  3.2  Any organisation supporting LINks must have extensive understanding of the NHS and be recompensed for their knowledge and experience as well as being appropriately funded.

  3.3  Despite the reassurances contained in the Government's response to "A stronger local voice" about the protections around funding, concerns remain that funding will not be ring fenced. The recent example of SHAs using medical training funds to reduce debt, increases such concerns.

4.   Statutory Powers

  4.1  The recent reassurance that existing statutory powers will continue is welcome as is the acknowledgement that high quality training is essential before such powers are used.

5.   Relations with Local Health Trusts

  5.1  LINks should be able to review and report NHS PPI work independently and comment on Trust submissions in the Healthcare Commission Annual Healthcheck.

6.   National Coordination

  6.1  All consultations should be live for a minimum of 12 weeks.

Liz Symnds

Chair, Patient Liaison Group of the Royal College of Surgeons

10 January 2007

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Prepared 6 February 2007