The Patient’s Voice – A Crucial Safeguard Against Harm

Healthwatch Essex is encouraging patients across the county to speak up about their experiences of health and social care in the aftermath of news that women may not have received invitations to breast cancer screenings when they were due.

Earlier this year Healthwatch Essex was made aware that thousands of smear tests were to be re-processed after incorrect results were issued. Yesterday, it was announced that, nationally, 450,000 women may not have received invitations to breast cancer screenings when they were due.

Healthwatch Essex CEO, Dr David Sollis, said: “We have written to the General Medical Council, The Care Quality Commission and NHS England to understand how women in Essex may have been affected by this issue. It is not yet clear how many in this region may have been affected, however we have been assured that robust mechanisms have been put in place to contact them and that they will be offered screenings as a matter of priority. We have also been assured that capacity exists in the system to do this without impacting upon routine screening.

“Interestingly, in both instances, we did not receive complaints or expressions of concern from members of the public. Of course, we recognise that, in some instances, it may have been impossible for people to know what service they should have received or that an error had been made but, very often, we find that people don’t speak up even when they have a concern. There is a real human cost when we see systems fail within health and social care so, alongside the system changes that must take place to prevent this, I also want to encourage people to speak up if they have concerns.

“We have an information and signposting telephone service, which can help members of the public in Essex navigate any service within health and social care in Essex. Where we identify trends in the type of calls we take, we are able to highlight a potential issue to the relevant authorities, so that they can make crucial checks. It is also possible to provide feedback on individual services via our Trip-Advisor style feedback centre.

“Hearing the patient’s voice more prominently within health and social care is absolutely crucial in providing a level of transparency that can prevent serious harm from lying undetected for any length of time.”

The NHS has provided a helpline for people who are concerned about not having received an invite to breast cancer screening. Healthwatch Essex Information and Signposting Team can be reached on 0300 500 1895.