I had a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I instantly dismissed it as mild indigestion, or yesterday’s gym class. But it wasn’t. It was different. It’s the feeling I get just before Christmas or a great summer holiday. It’s a sense of anticipation and excitement. I hope I’m not shattering too many illusions about my work ethic, but it’s safe to say I don’t get excited about attending very many work meetings that start at 5pm.
But this was different. Different in a number of ways. Firstly, after three years in the job, this was one of last meetings I’d attend for VONNE as their Health & Social Care lead. Secondly because I was giving a presentation to fellow members of the Northern Clinical Senate. The Northern Senate is one of the few to have a place for the voluntary & community sector, a fact I’m really proud of. If you’re reading this and wondering what on earth the ‘senate’ is you won’t be alone. I’ve done a short briefing and written a short section for the VONNE website that provides more detail.
By way of a quick context setter: following the reorganisation of the NHS in April 2013 the Northern Clinical Senate and Strategic Clinical Networks were established as a source of independent, strategic advice and guidance to assist commissioners make the best decisions about healthcare for the populations they represent. If local areas are unable to agree on the safest and most effective way to deliver or reconfigure a service, then the issue can be referred to the Senate for an independent review. The Senate Council is made up of 30 of the most influential clinicians in the North. And me – and today I had 10 minutes to make the case for the community & voluntary sector.
My pitch started well. I’d left the killer heals in the hall at home when I remembered I had a gravel car park to navigate on route to the venue. I was armed with stories of great engagement, partnership working, collaboration, volunteers who passionately advocate, carers, befrienders making life bearable for dementia sufferers, charities speeding up hospital discharge, voluntary groups providing hope for people suffering with chronic pain and fatigue. “Don’t mess it up Smithson”.
I didn’t. I gave my 10 minute presentation, shared personal reflections of the challenges ahead and peppered my talk with lots of great examples of work that groups who are members of VONNE’s Health & Social Care Forum have been kind enough to share with me these last three years.
Then there were questions. Great, informed questions from Senate members about the challenge of securing meaningful, timely, robust and rounded engagement. The balance of individual patient experience and collective engagement. The influence that pharmaceutical companies are starting to wield to gain access to commissioners. The challenge of contracts and tenders, consortium and partnership working.
I hope I did you justice. I highlighted innovation, but made the point that by taking a more informed approach and championing ‘relational commissioning’ where buyers and suppliers, commissioners and providers, regulators and service users work together to shape local service provision, we are much more likely to get great health outcomes.
So a big ‘Thank You’ to all of you who have supported me in my role with VONNE. Tonight you helped make a tough gig very easy