Help your GP improve patients' health by joining a patient participation group. Many practices already have their own and those which do not, may appreciate help starting one.
The National Association for Patient Participation (NAPP) is staging its first awareness week from Monday 3 June to encourage more involvement so this is a good time to act.
Rosemary Bolton, the independent member for patient involvement at NHS Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley Clinical Commissioning Group, the area's new health team, said: "Patient participation groups play a vital role in helping to improve the area's health by sharing ideas and feedback with surgeries and the CCG.
"They carry out patient surveys, help with health awareness days like winter flu injections, produce newsletters or web pages and act as a critical friend, giving important feedback to the practice.
"Joining a patient participation group allows you to have a direct input in how your practice is run. It ensures patients' views remain at the heart of local services at a time when the NHS is undergoing significant change."
Some groups run online virtual versions for those unable to attend meetings but who still want to help.
Sue Creedon, secretary of Patient Voice, the patient participation group at the Oaks Surgery in Nightingale Way, Swanley, said: "Our group has patients, surgery staff and a GP on the committee. "We have a newsletter, a noticeboard in the waiting room and a dedicated webpage on the practice website to give patients information about the surgery and changes to the NHS, particularly in the local area. Patients can contact us through our own feedback forms and through our own e-mail address."
Sue, a former state registered nurse and school teacher who has retired through ill health, added: "I agreed to join our surgery's patient participation group because the practice has been very helpful to me with my own health problems and I wanted to put something back. We have established a Patient Reference Group, in addition to the patient participation group committee, and that has 230 members. We survey them for their opinions about any decisions or changes taking place and ask for comments and ideas."
Patient participation group members have designed the annual practice survey for the past two years and this year put a version on the web for patients to complete online. Sue said: "It is very useful to find out about the positive points of the surgery and to hear any concerns patients may have. Patient Voice has put an action plan in place with the surgery to make improvements over the coming year."
The patient participation group held its first patient event last year in conjunction with Sevenoaks District Council and is planning another in the autumn. Sue said: "We believe health education is an important aspect of patient participation group work."
Every six to eight weeks the chairs of the area's patient participation groups meet the clinical commissioning group to exchange ideas and feedback, to raise questions with the CCG and to take information back to their members. The CCG is keen for every practice to be represented at the meetings.Dr Bhaskar Bora, chairman of NHS Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley Clinical Commissioning Group and who is based at Elmdene Surgery in London Road, Greenhithe, said: "It is great having a patient participation group. It gives feedback about what is needed and helps keep patients up to date with what is happening and alerts them to any special health issues. I would recommend patients enrol in their own patient participation group or help start one."
A third of the area's 34 practices now have patient participation groups. To find out if your practice has one, call the surgery or check out the practice website.