Patient involvement at Barts Heart Centre

Barts Heart Centre

Involving patients in health services can help make improvements that might not otherwise have happened. Sarah Brealey reports on patient involvement at Barts Heart Centre in London.

Europe’s largest cardiovascular centre, Barts Heart Centre, has set up a patient forum to monitor performance. The forum was established when the former London Chest Hospital and the Heart Hospital were combined.

To date, forum members have done everything from taste testing hospital food to visiting departments. An average of 15 to 20 people, including members of staff, meet as the forum every six weeks. “The idea of the forum is to focus on patient experience,” says Director of Nursing Louise Crosby.

I was pleased we got the opportunity to taste the hospital food

“For example, we were told that communication isn’t always as good as it could be. Some patients would have liked to know more about what was going to happen to them, so we’re reviewing information leaflets and encouraging nurses and doctors to explain in greater detail what to expect during a procedure.”

A good investment

Louise acknowledges that getting significant numbers of patients to attend and managing the impact on staff time can be difficult. “It has taken more time than I expected, but it is an exciting opportunity to have patients help us take our service forward,” she says.

Barts Heart Centre Like Sue in Liverpool, Louise describes the new scheme as a “work in progress – this is the first step”. The Deputy Chairman of the patient forum at Barts is Malcolm Billings, 79, a writer and broadcaster from north London. He had a pacemaker fitted last year.

“I was grateful to them for sorting me out,” he says, “so when they asked me to get involved, I was happy to say yes. Food is a big issue in hospitals, so I was pleased that we got the opportunity to taste some and was surprised at how good it was.”

He says the patient forum is playing an important role in putting hospital communications in plain English rather than “gobbledygook”. Other small changes include putting books in waiting areas and the forum is setting up a scheme to offer support to new patients.

“I think it is a good idea for patients to be involved, especially as the nature of most heart conditions means you have it for the long term,” says Malcolm. “If we can make suggestions that make things better for others, then it is well worth it.”

5 ways to better patient care

1. Family members can help with your care, as Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital shows.

2. Get health niggles checked out early; don’t wait until you’re really ill. This applies even if, like Gordon Richardson in Wales, you think it may be nothing to do with your heart.

3. If you’re not happy about something, speak up. Even the best health services can improve by listening to patients and carers, as both Barts and Liverpool hospitals have shown.

4. Take an active role in your own care to help you feel in control and lead to better care. You can ask questions to improve your understanding of your condition. Call the Heart Matters Helpline with your questions on 0300 330 3300, or email [email protected]

5. Your experiences can help improve care for others. The BHF’s Heart Voices is a network of people affected by heart disease who want to influence heart health services. Find out more at the Heart Voices website or call 020 7554 0194.

More useful information