Over the last year, more than 1,400 people shared their views on the county’s health and social care services with Healthwatch Somerset, helping to make care better for local people.

In its latest Annual Report, published today, Healthwatch Somerset highlights how it has worked with communities across the county to make a difference to the way health and care services are run, and to raise awareness of important health and social care issues. (See below `The year in brief’.)

The report also identifies the most common health and social care concerns raised by local people, and outlines work for 2020/21, including a survey exploring how peoples’ access to health and care services has been affected by coronavirus.

The year in numbers

  • Over 1,400 people shared their views and experiences of local health and social care.
  • Over 2,000 people sought information, advice, and support on how to get the care they need.
  • Healthwatch Somerset visited over 361 community events, venues and health and care services across the county, to understand people’s experiences.
  • They made 45 recommendations for improvement to health and social care providers.
  • 41 volunteers supported Healthwatch Somerset last year, giving up 1,285 hours (100 hours a month) of their time to engage with patients and the public, and to assess services.

Common issues and concerns

The most common areas of comment and concern raised with Healthwatch Somerset last year were about primary care services (eg GPs, dentists and pharmacists), waiting times from GP referral to treatment, and care plans for patients with continuing needs (supported discharge).

Announcing the report, Judith Goodchild, Chair of the Healthwatch Somerset local Board, said: “Looking back over last year provides a great opportunity to highlight the value of listening and learning from people’s experiences.  We have connected with local communities across the county and represented their views to NHS decision makers and service providers, to make sure that public feedback is embedded into future planning for health and social care in Somerset.  I would like to thank everyone who has shared their story with us, and to our volunteers and the many groups we work with who help make health and social care better for local people.”

Hannah Gray, Healthwatch Somerset Manager, added: “We are looking forward to another productive year in 2020/21, focusing on improving services by promoting what matters most to local people.

“We are currently investigating how people’s access to health and social care services has been affected by coronavirus.  NHS and social care staff have had to adapt to a lot of change over the last few months, and there will be things that can be improved in how they provide care, now and in the future.  We want you to share your feedback on GP surgeries, care homes, hospitals, mental health services and dentists etc, to help services spot the issues and understand how to respond.  Tell us what it’s been like for you during COVID-19 by completing our short online survey (smartsurvey.co.uk/s/CoronavirusHWS/) or by getting in touch with us on: 01278 264405.”

The year in brief: How listening to local people has helped make health and social care better

Somerset NHS Long Term Plan:  Healthwatch Somerset asked people #WhatWouldYouDo to improve the NHS locally?  They want local services to focus on improving access to GP care, earlier referral from GP to specialist care, providing care closer to home, and involving people in decisions about their care.  Somerset NHS Clinical Commissioning Group will use these findings to develop future plans for local services.

Developing the Health Visiting Service:  Healthwatch Somerset gathered people’s experiences of the Health Visiting Service to inform Somerset County Council’s development plans, at a time when cuts were announced to support for young children and families.  The service is highly valued by local people, although there are areas for improvement around communication, accessibility, and flexibility.

Improving access to community information and support:  Healthwatch Somerset investigated how people get information and advice locally to help them manage their health.  They also identified common barriers that prevent people from getting the support they need, including difficulties getting to GP appointments and referrals, unreliable information online, and inadequate transport to services.  Somerset NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and Somerset County Council will use the findings to develop effective information and support across the whole health and care system.

Access to GP care:  Healthwatch Somerset reported on the common challenges people face when accessing GP care, including lack of appointments and not enough continuity of care through the same GP.  This work will be extended, and findings will be used to inform and improve GP provision in the county.

Read the full Healthwatch Somerset Annual Report 2019/20 to find out more: healthwatchsomerset.co.uk/reports-publications

Healthwatch Somerset projects for 2020/21

Healthwatch Somerset has identified the following areas for investigation in 2020/21, based on common concerns raised by local people, while reflecting national and local health and social care priorities:

  • Accessing health and care services during coronavirus
  • Access to primary care services
  • Waiting time from GP referral to treatment
  • Supported discharge process for patients with continuing health care needs
  • Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

These projects will be developed during the year, as heath and care services begin to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, to make sure the work reflects people’s needs.