Entitled to a title? Should we better recognise members of the public and patients involved in research?

Various reports today about the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley MP‘s, statement in response to a question today in the Commons that he is working to introduce an ‘effective compliance regime’ to ensure local NHS organisations implement NICE recommendations.  Those with children will no doubt empathise.

I’m not sure that as a statement it merits the headlines it has got just yet.  But it does give me a good excuse to point to the fact that NICE has updated its patient and public involvement policy.  Other than being updated to show how involvement is happening in some of NICE’s new areas of work such as QOFs (Quality Outcomes Framework) and QUIFFs (that’s a joke) I’m not sure if other significant changes have been made on the previous version.  Maybe someone from NICE will elucidate us.  Anyway, it’s a good policy.

You might also want to take a gander at NICE’s section of Fellows and Scholars approach which ‘recognises the achievement and promise of NHS health professionals, contributes to their professional development, and fosters a growing network of health professionals linked to NICE who will help to improve the quality of care in their local areas.’

Having sat throught three absorbing days recruiting new members of INVOLVE, it does concern me that members of the public asked to take on one role or another in advancing research, continue to confront what I can only term ‘status’ issues as regards the attitudes towards them as exhibited by professionals (and others, I hasten to add) around the table.

It can manifest itself in many ways – from the purely dismissive, to arguments about paying them for their involvement.

Chair: ‘Why should we pay you £150 to attend a meeting?’

Lay person: ‘For the same reasons the Trust is paying you £1,000 for doing the same thing?’

Chair: ‘But I’m a professional.  Anyway, I’m not sure we can afford it.  Our £150 million organisation doesn’t have a budget for it’

Lay person: ‘I aim to be professional about the task too, with your help.  It’s only four meetings a year.  Given that we are awarding £10 million in public money to research, I’m not sure we can afford not too, can we?’

And so it can go on.  But, seriously, should we be looking to provide a better ‘badge’ for public and patient representatives playing a formal participative role on review panels, committees etc – just as NICE and others look to do with researchers and professionals?  Might it help communicate their role better, break down some barriers?  Or would it entrench attitudes and be counter-productive in over-professionalising what patients and the public are doing?

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