The pandemic painfully exposed the need for involving the users at every stage of health and social care products and services design and development. It highlighted the need for deliberate attempts and approaches that can access marginalised voices and the need for inclusive research and a diverse dataset. However, the pandemic also showed us what our fantastic NHS, local governments and Third Sector can achieve when they work together.
Just in February of 2022, NHS Digital agreed and embarked on a new partnership with community networks. The reason is to better understand the users and to be able to develop health and social care products and services that work for everyone.
This is not the first time that NHS Digital is working with community organisations and networks in England. In the summer of 2021, our organisation joined other community partners to conduct the first Usability Testing of the Covid 19 content on the NHS website and App.
In March of 2021, IFB Gaming also supported NHS Digital to design research methods for British Sign Language Users (BSL) and IFB recruited the participants for the NHS Language Project.
There has been a notable rise in the number of partnerships since the peak of the pandemic in 2021, and this article focuses on the partnership between NHS Digital and Community Organisations and Networks in England.
Benefits of the partnership between NHS Digital and community networks
According to NHS Digital’s user research team, the NHS is committed to being user-centred, ensuring that the products and services it develops meet user needs and conform to NHS guidelines and Government Service Standards.
As an organisation, the NHS has successfully reached out to many communities as part of our standard research practice. However, the NHS also understands that they have not always engaged with some parts of the population; often those in seldom-listened-to groups and communities and people who are less engaged emotionally and digitally.
To address this issue, NHS Digital has established an ongoing partnership with community networks and groups in England and here are the benefits of the partnership below.
Inclusivity and diversity
This approach will enable NHS Digital to learn more about the communities we serve, get a better understanding of how to work with them, and help us include a diverse range of voices in our activities.
Quality and value for users of our products and services
Working with local community groups and networks will ensure that our products and services are designed to be accessible and useful to all audiences. Enabling these groups to pilot our materials, offer feedback on our plans and act as a sounding board will help to improve the quality of our work.
Value for Money
This approach makes the best value of public funds by reimbursing local community groups for recruiting seldom heard participants (to reinvest in the communities they serve), rather than paying fees to private recruiting agencies.
Engagement and empowerment
The partnerships could enable NHS Digital to give back to the communities we serve, supporting engagement, skills and empowerment of individuals who may not usually engage.
Sharing information and knowledge about the workings of the health and care system may be beneficial to members of the local community, and help to signpost them to appropriate services.
Benefits of partnering with community organisations (NHS Digital, 2022)
The government wants more patients to receive better care through strategic partnerships between the NHS, local government and social care systems. The government’s latest white paper titled “joining up for people, places and population” sets out measures to make integrated health and social care a universal reality for everyone across England regardless of their condition and to level up regardless of their background or location.
But first, we will need to manifest conduits that access the disparate members and cultures in England and Wales. Despite our collective efforts, the current system means that too often patients find themselves having to navigate complex and disjointed systems, or they do not have the essential digital skills for health, or their voices are not efficiently represented within the current construct.
Personally speaking, the call-to-action is another step in the right direction for health and social care in England and Wales, and we will see more and more partnerships in the future as we continue to design for a nation where everyone can fully participate and reach their potential during technology adoption maturity and beyond.