As a Local Healthwatch, we want to hear everyone’s experience of health and social care services. We know that there are many groups that we don’t hear from very often.

Who we hear from now

When I first joined Healthwatch Bucks in 2015 I knew very little about Buckinghamshire. I had some ideas about the type of people that lived in the county. But this was based on personal experience and things other people had told me. So, one of the first pieces of work that I did was to look at the 2011 census data and find a “typical” person living in Buckinghamshire. They were:

White, English-speaking homeowners, with cars and children. They are in good to very good health, working in professional type roles.

When we launched a new website in 2016, we spent a lot of time looking at our web traffic using Google Analytics. From this we found that the most common visitors to our website were women over 40. Many of these worked in London, so presumably commuted from Buckinghamshire. You might very well ask how we knew that just from our web traffic, but you would need to ask Google.

Now, in 2021, we know that the Healthwatch Network most commonly hears from White British women, over the age of 40. If you look at the results from our surveys, you will see that we have the same results.

Looking at those same surveys you will also see that, in the past, we have requested the following information about people:

  • Age group,
  • Ethnicity,
  • Gender.

Where it has been relevant, we have also asked about:

  • Disabilities,
  • Long-term conditions,
  • Status as a carer.

These questions are always optional. We know that roughly 1 in 20 people are reluctant to answer some or all these questions. That’s perfectly OK with us, we don’t want to put you off telling us about your experiences.

Who are we not hearing from?

Well, honestly, we can’t be certain. This is what NASA would call an “Unknown unknown”. Most of the “good data” is now very out of date.

What we do know is that, in 2011:

  • about 50% of Bucks’ residents were male
  • 14% of residents in Bucks were from non-White British ethnic groups.

In our ongoing COVID-19 vaccine survey (to March 31st 2021):

  • only 25% of people that responded were male
  • only 7.5% of people that responded were from non-White British ethnicities.

So, based on even these simple characteristics we are not currently hearing the voices of some groups.

The 2021 census has just been completed so we will soon have something newer to compare our data with.

The changes you will see

To check whether we are reaching everyone, we need to collect data about the individuals who contact us. We normally call this “demographic data”. With this data, we can see which groups we are not reaching. This helps us target those groups more effectively in the future.

However, in addition to gender, age and ethnicity, we also need to collect information about other characteristics such as sexuality or religion. We know that many people might consider this much more personal. Sharing this information with us will always be optional.

We have already made changes to our surveys to include the new questions. I’m pleased to say that many people are answering the additional questions, so thank you!

We’re currently working on the best way to collect data when you leave feedback on the website or contact us about a specific issue. We really don’t want this to be awkward (for you or us) so we will take our time to make sure we’re doing it right. Alongside these changes we will update our data protection notices to include these updates. When this happens, we will let you know via the website. If we are already holding your contact information, we may email you directly.

Why the change?

Overall, we hear that local health and care services in Buckinghamshire work very well for most people. We rarely have reports of consistently poor experiences with a single provider. This brings us to one of two conclusions, either:

Services in Bucks are great and there is very little room for improvement

OR

We’re not hearing from the people that services don’t work well for

This is the Unknown Unknown.

Our work to date has shown that services in Bucks are good and work well for most people. However, we think, but don’t know, this is not the case for everyone.

We know that there are certain groups that services have not worked well for in the past. Buckinghamshire has a diverse population, which includes some of these groups. When services don’t work well for people, their overall health isn’t as good as everyone else’s. This is called “health inequality”.

This can happen when a group doesn’t have good access to information about an illness, or where an illness affects people from that group more severely. It can also happen because of the location of the services or because information about the service is poor. There are many other reasons.

As a Local Healthwatch, we want to hear everyone’s experience of health and social care services. If we find inequalities around access to services and information, we can tell providers and they can make changes.

Finally, the Public Sector Equality Duty (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-sector-quick-start-guide-to-the-public-sector-equality-duty ) requires us to show that our services are open to everyone. Collecting demographic data helps us to show that our service meets this requirement.

Thanks for reading!

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