Healthwatch Dorset has announced the areas of health and social care that it will investigate this year to make sure that local people’s views and experiences are used to drive and support improvements in services.

Following analysis of public feedback to find common issues and concerns, and consultation with local health and care partners about national and local priorities, four areas have been identified.

1. Accident and Emergency Care (A&E)
Covid-19 has changed the way A&E services are provided and the NHS now wants people to contact NHS 111 before visiting A&E.  Healthwatch Dorset will investigate how new ways of working have affected people.  Working in partnership with Poole Hospital, Healthwatch Dorset volunteers have been carrying out phone interviews with people who visited A&E in early 2021.  Their findings and recommendations for improvement will be shared with Poole Hospital, other Dorset hospitals, and with NHS England Improvement.  Healthwatch Dorset will also investigate A&E patient experience at Dorset County Hospital, later this year to inform redevelopment of the hospital’s Emergency Department.

2. Children and young people’s health and social care services
Healthwatch Dorset will be asking local young people about their experiences of health and social care services and gathering their ideas on how services could work better for them.  The project is being designed and delivered by a group of volunteer ‘Young Listeners’ aged 16-25, with support and training from Healthwatch Dorset.  They will engage with other young people during the summer and report their findings to health and care decision makers in the autumn.  This project builds on Healthwatch Dorset’s work last year gathering feedback from marginalised young people, which informed Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group’s review of Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services CAMHS.

3. Access to Primary Care
Many people with serious health conditions are not getting the care they need when they need it, and this can lead to significantly poorer health outcomes, a situation made worse by Covid-19.  Healthwatch Dorset wants to raise public awareness about when and how to access healthcare, and they want to investigate how difficulties accessing primary care, like GPs, impact on health inequalities.  They also want to find out more about the benefits and challenges to patients of using digital methods of communication and consultation, and of how the patient experience can be improved, for example by reducing barriers and waiting times for booking appointments.

Another area of ongoing investigation will be the lack of access to NHS dentistry in Dorset.  This became a major area of concern and public feedback during the pandemic across the whole country, and Healthwatch Dorset continues to receive many enquiries about how to get NHS dental care.  They will continue to gather feedback and work with other Healthwatch organisations across the country to urge the Department of Health and Social Care to prioritise oral health and commit to improving access to dentistry.

4. Transport to health and social care services
Access to transport is a key theme that local people raise with Healthwatch Dorset.  This research and engagement project will explore a range of issues including disabled access, access for older people and rural communities, the need for clear and accessible information about transport, and transport support for the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Vivienne Aird, Chair of the Healthwatch Dorset Steering Group explained how these projects will make a positive difference to health and social care in Dorset: “Health and social care providers can best improve services if they understand people’s experiences.  We are here to listen to local people, to gather and analyse their feedback and identify themes, and to report what is and isn’t working.  We share our findings and recommendations with those responsible for improving health and care in Dorset, to support and drive positive change.  We want to hear from as many people as possible about their experiences, when these projects are launched throughout the year, or at any time and about any health and care service.  Your feedback really will help to make care better for local people.”

You can share your health and care experience and feedback with Healthwatch Dorset:
• Online: healthwatchdorset.co.uk/talk-to-us/your-views-and-experiences
• By phone: 0300 111 0102
• By email: enquiries@healthwatchdorset.co.uk

Healthwatch Dorset is the county’s independent health and social care champion. It exists to make sure that local people’s views are heard and used by those in charge of health and care social care to help improve local services. It also provides information and advice to help people find out about local services and support.

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