How to improve the hospital experience for people unable to communicate

The number of people wanting to join this session is an indication of how much this issue resonates with both health and social care professionals and patients. There was a lot of knowledge and experience in this group, and inevitably not enough time for everyone to contribute.

Zoe Harris, founder of the social enterprises Mycarematters and Care Charts UK, led the session, opening with a brief introduction of the circumstances that led her to develop, first, the range of communication tools known as Remember-I’m-Me Care Charts and then the online platform Mycarematters, where people can upload the information they want healthcare professionals to know about them. The idea behind this is that healthcare staff cannot provide dignified and person-centred care if they know nothing about the person.

There was a wide-ranging discussion on the challenges faced by hospitals to improve standards for this particularly vulnerable group of people, often living with some form of cognitive impairment such as dementia.

Initiatives mentioned included Age UK’s Hungry to be Heard and Home from Hospital programmes, the Butterfly Scheme to raise awareness amongst staff that a patient is living with dementia and how to adjust their behaviour accordingly.

It was pointed out that all initiatives adopted must be culturally sensitive.

Volunteering was discussed as having the potential for considerable impact, often under-utilised by hospitals and inadequately integrated into hospitals’ culture.

Shirley Murgraff called for an increased level of service user input into healthcare professionals’ training. Shirley has been campaigning for this for years and has finally persuaded Hackney to incorporate a 2 hr slot into a week’s training course.

There was a general concensus of the need to empower older people, and not just older people, to ensure we all have a voice.

Also general agreement that in the NHS there’s a lot of talk but not very much action about patient participation.

There was mention of a CCG funded facilitator role to ensure carers are aware of their rights, and to involve them with discharge planning.

“Who do we go to when we see poor practice?” Discussion about Health Watch should they be more proactive? Everything feels too bureaucratic, it was suggested.

Culture change can only come about through training.

How can small improvements, whether noted by staff or patients, be implemented? Need a method to ensure everyone feels they can make a difference in improving standards and outcomes.

One of the biggest challenges in the NHS, it was noted, is demotivated staff.

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