NHS North West London has a Citizens’ Panel made up of 3,800 people, broadly reflecting the make-up of our local communities. The panel was set up 2019 and started to operate in 2020. The initial costs of setting up the panel and recruiting members were funded nationally by NHS England, who funded similar panels in a number of regions at the time.
The panel is used when we wanted to survey public opinion on specific issues and we have a two-way dialogue with members, meaning we also use the group to communicate information about local healthcare services. There is also the potential for us to use the panel for focus groups, as we are able to target people from specific areas, backgrounds or age groups.
It is important to note that the panel is only one strand of our ambitious public involvement strategy. We also have an extensive programme of community outreach with between 20 and 60 interactions with community groups per month, regular ‘collaborative space’ meetings that anyone can attend, a lay partner programme and social media engagement via Next Door, Facebook and Twitter. and an ongoing commitment to work with local authorities, the voluntary sector and Healthwatch to ensure we are hearing from all our communities. Feedback from all of these discussions is published in our community insight reports.
How does the panel reflect local communities?
Members were selected by Civica, who provided the software for the Citizens’ Panel and provide a range clinical information systems and patient and public engagement software and infrastructure, including similar panels to other health and public sector organisations.
At the time of developing our panel, Civica provided a membership recruitment service based upon their extensive data sets. They used local demographic data to ensure the panel broadly reflected our population.
4,000 members were initially recruited but after the panel went live, some members changed their minds and stepped back. However, the vast majority kept their membership and others have been added using the same method– the number now is around 3,800.
How we work with the Citizens’ Panel
We have a two-way relationship with the panel, meaning we do not use it only for surveys but also to provide information and encourage questions and dialogue. Members have received and shared a wide range of valuable information, comments and questions.
The panel went live at the start of the pandemic, at a time where people were desperate for information. For example, we were able to provide vital information to members about the pandemic, including factual information about vaccination and where and when they could get it. Panel members provided the majority of questions for our Covid-19 FAQs We are able to advertise upcoming events to members – for example, a number were able to attend our Covid webinars and similar virtual or public events since.
Panel members have taken part in a range of surveys, including the ‘What matters to you?’ survey that is quoted in the draft NW London health and care strategy, a survey gathering patient experiences of specific services and our survey on attitudes to vaccination during the pandemic. As with all the insights we get from members of the public, the surveys are shared with our programme and borough teams, to ensure that what people tell us is taken in to account in decision-making – and that issues people are raising are addressed.
For example, our ‘What matters to you’ survey further strengthened and complemented what we have heard from local people in our communities, particularly around key issues such as access to GPs, communication with patients and concerns about mental health. The survey findings also outlined real affection for the NHS, GPs, doctors and nurses – and many members thanked us for the way in which we work with them.
Future plans for the Citizens’ Panel
We continue to monitor the balance of the panel against the make-up of our local communities and to recruit where we feel there are gaps.
We are currently recruiting more young people, particularly in the boroughs of Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham, with some dispersal across our eight boroughs. Our initial target is an extra 200 people under the age of 23, including multiple members from minority ethnic backgrounds. The following phase aims to recruit a range of people from different characteristics that are protected under the Equality Act 2010*, ensuring that the panel continues to reflect North West London. We will work with voluntary sector and grassroots community groups to aim to fulfil our membership targets.
We are also aiming to:
- Further improve two-way real-time communication with our panel members
- Consider insights from the panel alongside other insights and data (including community outreach, national surveys and public health and service data in NW London)
- Continue to develop surveys: we will shortly be carrying out a survey of people’s experience of primary care
- Continuing to ensure that our data is valid and robust
*Note: The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on public bodies to have due regard of the impact of their decisions on people considered to have ‘protected characteristics’. The act lists nine specific characteristics: Age, race, disability, sex, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity and sexual orientation. In North Wet London, we also specifically consider carers and people experiencing social or financial deprivation or isolation.