Blog: our regions will need a stronger patient voice if health research gets the devolution bug

As a democrat it doesn’t sit well with me that the new interim Major of Greater Manchester is unelected. The excuses for it seem pretty poor. You should start as you mean to go on.

Perhaps we should have sensed something was up when ‘DevoManc’ emerged as the nickname for the entity that will be responsible for the devolved health and social care budget. Is that ‘diva’ or ‘devo’ because there seems a lot of ego on show with this one. Not a lot of power going to the people.

I will gladly put money on the thing failing because of coruscating town hall bureaucracy and inertia not least around public engagement. Perhaps ‘DevilManc’ is a better option because the devil will be in the detail. Believe it or not I sincerely hope it works and I get egg on my face.

And what of this thing called the Northern Powerhouse. Does it refer to everything north of Watford and south of Hadrian’s Wall? Is it just about Manchester? Or are those great northern cities of Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and many others included? As they should be. No one seems to know. Whatever! Again, it sounds like the name of a good nightclub not a serious bit of regional policy.

Fact is that successive Governments have been piss-poor when it comes to handing power to the regions – or more correctly – the citizens who live in our regions. In the meantime, wealth has continued to trickle down to London and the home counties like the snow in a snowstorm toy. Doesn’t matter how the UK has been shaken up, it always happens?

So no wonder the devolved nations – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have become more restless and assertive. Same with places like Greater Manchester. Other English regions will follow suit. It will be an undercurrent of the new parliament, that’s for sure. It will be something that politicians will need to embrace without unlocking the darker forces of provincialism.

How this issue impacts on research and innovation and the public’s role in this is going to be fascinating. Last week saw the first conference I know of, that looked at the implications of ‘DevoManc’ for research. It concluded, I hear, with a vigorous session on public involvement. Good work my trust Mancunians.

Wales recently rebranded research there as Health and Care Research Wales. New research centres and units have been announced. They have also established HealthWise Wales with the aim of getting all its citizens taking part in research. I tweeted that it feels like a ‘coming of age’ for research there.

Looking at England, I feel more confident about what will happen where we already have strong, regional forums for the patient voice.

Fortunately the North West is one of those. It has the excellent North West People in Research Forum (NWPiRF) which held a strategy session just a few days ago:

The West of England People in Health forum where I spoke last week is another. The East and West Midlands have emerging ones too. The North East has its Voice North forum for older people. All of them share similar characteristics: strong leadership, a collaborative ethos, and the spirit of creativity. Perhaps add to that a desire to integrate with health system in their area.

What of the others? London for instance, which is often hide-bound by the institutional dominance on the landscape of Imperial and UCL? Or the southern counties?

Going the Extra Mile’ published the day the General Election was called, – and about to be reprinted in a more accessible format – recommended that there should be a patient voice forum in each region.

And I would go one step further. I would argue that the health research organisations in each of these areas should be putting a portion of their public involvement budget – AHSNs, CLAHRCs, LCRNs – into a central pot to run them. Perhaps 5% or £10,000 whichever is the greatest or the equivalent ‘in kind.’

If research is to face the same forces of devolution as others sectors then strong public involvement and engagement is going to be essential. We are not going to achieve this if the limit of our ambitions are our traditional organisational or institutional boundaries.

Simon Denegri
NIHR National Director for Public Participation and Engagement in Research
Twitter: @SDenegri
Please visit my blog at;

Simon DenegriChair, INVOLVE
NIHR National Director for Public Participation and Engagement in Research
Twitter: @SDenegri
Please visit my blog at;

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