Interesting article from Paul Hodgkin, SSE Fellow and founder of Patient Opinion, in Wednesday’s Society Guardian entitled "Conversation Peace". On the face of it, this is an interesting diversion into how new technology might have ramifications for the NHS (video footage of mixed wards, unclean areas, bed shortages on YouTube etc.), but it is also the story of how the NHS is giving mixed messages about independence.
On the one hand, the NHS is being encouraged to commission and work with social enterprises to deliver services, and substantial sums of money have been made available for this. So, on the one hand, the NHS is being encouraged to devolve services to social enterprises and the volutnary sector. On the other hand, in the case of Patient Opinion, it has decided to develop its own solution in-house (NHS Choices), albeit with a slightly broader remit. And in an area where, as Paul points out, trust is absolutely paramount:
"Running Patient Opinion has convinced us that the state or public
sector providers themselves are likely to be poor hosts for these
conversations. Citizens are likely to instinctively distrust government
websites, suspecting them – rightly or wrongly – of spin. They may also
be reluctant to give email addresses to a feedback platform owned by
the NHS when they may be users of its services in the future. And, of
course, health abounds with controversies, be it hospital closures or
In our view, the NHS will find it easier to
handle such firestorms if they are hosted on a platform that is clearly
independent of the main players."
Now obviously, innovation is welcome and new models may bring different benefits. Patient Opinion will also have the benefit of years of operation, building its credibility and refining its model, whilst the new site has to build that from scratch. But NHS Voices may well, as the article points out, bring interesting new slants, open data to be used, interesting ways of gathering collective experiences and so on.
Still, even if this NHS IT project goes smoothly in development, there seems (admittedly from a distant standpoint) to be something of a divergence here between rhetoric and reality. Others have voiced concerns over health/social enterprise with regard to a) lack of social enterprises able to deliver; b) need for sufficient support and c) opening up commissioning to private sector (if not the first time, then after 3 years). There’s some validity to these, although there are good, well-informed people at the DoH working through the issues, but my concern is more of a cultural one: will the NHS really let go?