Message from Frances Hasler – Healthwatch Camden, Director

“Being” Healthwatch

The theme of this year’s Healthwatch England conference was “Being Healthwatch”. Now that the Healthwatch network has been in place for two years, how do we fulfil our role? The answers are different for each local Healthwatch, because the context in which we work is different. For us in Camden, being Healthwatch means working in partnership with our large and diverse voluntary and community sector. 

In common with most local Healthwatch, a priority area for us is primary care. It is the number one topic people talk to us about. When we decided to do some work on primary care services locally, we wanted to do it in partnership, and we wanted to make a difference.

Our study on variation in GP services in Camden (currently out for discussion, prior to being published in the autumn) involved lots of people – a government statistician (via a secondment scheme); local GP representatives, and practice managers, who provided constructive challenge; members of patient participation groups, who discussed how the study could be used at practice level;  NHS England and Camden CCG, who gave us early feedback; and local voluntary organisations, who gathered evidence for us via mystery shopping, focus groups and feedback from volunteers.

This partnership with voluntary and community organisations is a crucial part of “being” Healthwatch Camden. Through local organisations we can reach a far wider range of local people than we can manage on our own. We are able to use our statutory powers to make their voices louder, for example by working with Camden Carers to explore ‘carer awareness’ at GP practices.   

This collaborative approach is not the way that every local Healthwatch chooses to work – it all depends on local circumstances. But here in Camden it feels like the best way to promote the interests and concerns of local people. We’d like to hope that everyone who is involved in a local community organisation or voluntary body has a voice via Healthwatch Camden.

Of course, we like to talk to people individually, too, and we try hard to reach people directly. Another aspect of “being” Healthwatch Camden is taking part in the varied community festivals that happen each summer. We usually have some questions we want to ask – and we always look forward to hearing people’s experience of health and social care. These informal conversations are really helpful – we may be able to signpost someone to a source of help, we may pick up feedback on a particular service, and we can find out what a cross section of local people think about services. Each event is different – so the views we get are varied. They can alert us to subjects we need to look at in more detail.

Attending festivals is another sort of partnership with the voluntary and community sector – all the festivals are put together by local community groups. And when we start to look at topics in more detail, we will go to community groups to test out our ideas with their members. Staying connected with the network of local voluntary and community organisations will always be an essential foundation for our work. 

You can also find out more about our work by contacting us