Ensuring young people have a voice. Alice Williams – NHS England

In October 2014, NHS England published its Five Year Forward View; a strategy that aimed to have far reaching impacts on healthcare. This document highlighted the importance of involving patients and the public.

“…the health service needs to change, [we need] a more engaged relationship with patients, carers and citizens so that we can promote wellbeing and prevent ill-health. We need to ensure that patients and the public are an integral part of our governance, decision making forums, service improvement, re-design and assurance. It is vital that the patient and public voice is embedded in all of our commissioning process.” 

Five Year Forward View, NHS England, October 2014  

The NHS is getting better at patient engagement, but we still have a way to go. The “usual” type of engagement in health care can be incredibly restrictive.  It usually revolves around day-time meetings of professionals with jargon filled reports and discussions. This can be especially intimidating and a real barrier to engaging children and young people.

A report published by the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum (CYPHOF) (2015) stated that nearly 25% of the population are under age 20. That’s nearly a quarter of our population! Or to put it another way; children and young people are a quarter of our current “customers”, and a quarter of our future workforce. If the NHS doesn’t do more to engage children and young people, we risk developing services that don’t meet their needs and don’t inspire young people to believe that health care is a worthwhile career.

We need to be involved and heard at all levels of our healthcare system. We need to understand what young people think good care looks like in hospitals, GPs and community services. We also need to involve young people in a future vision for the health service and in strategic change.

To do this properly, the NHS needs to think creatively about ways of listening to and acting on the views of young people. The NHS Youth Forum recently developed some key messages for commissioners and service providers, they told us:

  • Make meetings accessible – Skyping, online meetings, “business planning in a weekend” are all creative alternatives to the usual week day forums.
  • Contact existing groups – local schools, youth centres, youth councils, members of youth parliament.
  • Focus on young people who have the poorest health outcomes – these include seldom heard groups such as young people in secure settings, those who are carers, homeless young people, or who have complex disabilities. Work in partnership with the voluntary sector who have specialist skills to support young people.
  • Ask us what we think – ask us directly using appropriate venues, support and accessible questions. Don’t forget to do some research online – there are already lots of reports and you tube clips about what young people think of healthcare services!
  • Involve us in decisions 
  • Invest in support and training – both for young people to develop their skills to contribute, but also for staff to work effectively with young people.

The NHS is doing more to involve patients and the public in shaping healthcare, but we must make ensure that this cultural change doesn’t exclude children and young people. Their voices matter!

To find out more:  NHS Youth forum, British Youth Council

Young people can also join the conversations about what matters to them at the NHS England Youth Forum Facebook page, and on Twitter @NHSYouthForum #NHSYF.




Alice Williams is the Public Engagement Lead, Nursing Directorate for NHS England 

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