Participation: what is it and why do it?

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What is participation?

NHS Boards need to ensure that people have a say in decisions about their care and in the development of local health services. It is one of the commitments set out in the Scottish Government's Link opens in a new windowBetter Health, Better Care: Action Plan (2007) to develop a “mutual NHS” where health services meet the needs and preferences of individuals.

Participation refers to the service user or public involvement processes by which perceptions and opinions of those involved are incorporated into decision making. We use it as an umbrella term for the numerous words and phrases used to describe involving people in:

  • decisions about their own health and care
  • shaping and influencing service provision as communities of interest or geography, and
  • working in partnership with service providers.

Other terms that are used include Patient Focus and Public Involvement (PFPI), community engagement, co-production and asset based approaches, service user and carer involvement, person-centred care, people-powered health, personalisation, and so on.

Why do it?

The most important reason is because the NHS can deliver more efficient and effective services and more person-centred care if we listen to what people are telling us. The benefits of customer feedback are well accepted in the business world and are no less valid in the public sector.

The focus on involving people is a long standing aspiration in national policy for both health and social care. As outlined in the Policy Timeline, there are numerous recurring themes such as ‘patients as partners’, ‘mutuality’, ‘a patient-focused service built on partnership’, ‘dignity and respect’, ‘feedback’, ‘the needs of individuals’, ‘continuity’, ‘compassion’, ‘shared decision making’, ‘cultural appropriateness’ and ‘learning from complaints’.

In addition to these aspirations, when services are being changed NHS Boards must meet the requirements set out in the Scottish Government's Link opens in a new windowInforming, engaging and consulting people in developing health and community care services (CEL 4 (2010). NHS Boards are also required to deliver an annual self assessment to the Scottish Health Council against the Participation Standard.