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Peer support networks for lay members in health and care

I was at a meeting last week of patient and public representatives on a range of bodies like Healthwatch and patient participation groups.  The aim was to see whether it was worth setting up a network of such lay members across the region to provide peer support to each other.

The discussion touched on a number of things, such as current strategic developments in health, like STPs, integrated care systems, finance and staffing issues.  We wondered whether it would be useful to discuss such matters and maybe even do some work jointly on them, such as collective lobbying.  Other things we thought we might do were trying to ensure a stronger patient voice, making useful contacts and learning (perhaps by having presentations on significant issues).

However, during, and more so after the meeting, I wondered if we might get a clearer and more comprehensive picture of what we could potentially do, through a framework.  In terms of what the benefits might be, it seemed to me there were two dimensions.  The first is how we would relate to each other (sharing information, learning, acting jointly etc.).  The second was what that was in relation to: policy and operational issues in health and wellbeing; systems and processes (meetings and organisational activities of health bodies); and the capacity of the participants, the lay members, and their organisations (individual knowledge and skills, collective capacity, resources).  By plotting one against another, you can produce a matrix with examples of the sorts of thing you might do in each cell.  My first go at producing such a matrix is shown below.  It’s not comprehensive or a finished work, but hopefully it shows that by breaking it down in this way, you can generate more ideas about what you can usefully do as a network.

Strategic, policy and operational issues in health and wellbeing

Policy and processes of community engagement

Individual and collective capacity or lay members and their organisations

Share information and knowledge

Share information about developments in STPs and ICS’s (e.g. new person in charge, new publications).

Let each know of opportunities for patient representation on bodies.  Share data and sources of data.

Share information on data protection or safeguarding requirements.


Presentation from expert / practitioner and discussion.

Learn about and from each other’s management arrangements, processes etc.

Learn about each other’s training, support of volunteers etc.

Making contacts

Find who knows about workforce issues, mental health etc.

Find and make contact with those involved with the STP, CCG, particular trusts etc.

Make contact with similar organisations or those with potential to learn from.


Agree who’s going to make the running on which issues and who is to do what (e.g. all to raise a particular issue or let just one organisation take it on, or each address it in a different way).

Don’t duplicate activities which don’t add value (e.g. two organisations consulting with the same ‘seldom heard’ group and hearing much the same messages)

Don’t let commissioners ‘divide and conquer’ e.g. by pitting Healthwatch’s against each other.

Helping each other

Explain a particular policy issue to a colleague.

Come and help facilitate a community engagement event.

Provide training to another organisation.

Sharing tasks and working jointly

One does the essence of a briefing on a new policy or issue (e.g. new funding arrangements, news structures) and makes it available to others to tailor for their own needs.

Regular summaries of national health news.

Share representation on or attendance at key bodies (e.g. CCG, Trusts, Health and Wellbeing Board boards, public meetings,), so only one (or two) people need to go and they can feed back to others.  Share summaries or agendas of meetings and their outcomes.

Run one training session on, e.g. safeguarding, data protection, enter and view, and invite other organisations to attend.

Share production of newsletters (e.g. one does articles on national issues another on regional issues, that can be tailored for own use).


A common line and voice on local strategic issues such as the STP, reconfiguration of services, issues in relation to vulnerable groups such as homeless people etc.

Push to get patient representatives in as many places as possible.  Press for use of co-production.

Lobbying round funding for organisations and support in kind.

If we do go ahead with a network, there is, of course, no guarantee it will be successful: they typically start to fade away over time.  I know from experience that they require a good deal of input – organising and facilitating – to make them work.  And the benefits to the participants have to be greater than their costs in terms of attending meetings, reading emails and so on.  That means having people prepared to make it work, and designing and delivering networking delivery so that people can get the most out of it (e.g. being clear in advance what meetings will be about, having valuable external input and facilitating so that the maximum number of people can participate, contribute and take something away from it).

Part of being able to do that is knowing what you’re there for.  And perhaps this framework can help in some small way with that.

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