03/01/2014 06:32 GMT | Updated 05/03/2014 05:59 GMT

Consulting the Public Has to Be More Than Just a Box-Ticking Exercise

The problem with public consultations is that they so rarely involve the public! More often than not they are a mere PR exercise in securing a consensus among policy makers and professionals with little effort expended to find out what the rest of us really think.

Unfortunately for those affected, the health and social care sector has learnt the hard way the cost of not listening to and consulting properly with the people it serves.

As the new consumer champion for patients and care users, Healthwatch England does things differently. Everything we do starts and ends with the people we represent.

We are enlisting the public to help test out our new framework of consumer rights for health and care users and will be running a national programme of events, surveys and feedback sessions over the next nine weeks. This forms part of a wider consultation on how we can all help drive improvement in health and care by acting more like 'savvy consumers'.

We are particularly keen to speak with those who are rarely heard, most notably children and those with mental health conditions, so we will be seeking them out and ensuring we are giving a voice to the people who need it the most.

From our existing research we know there is a real problem with many of us still seeing ourselves as 'grateful patients', broadly happy with the service we receive even when it fails to meet our most basic expectations.

Over 70 per cent of the 2,000 people we spoke with said they were satisfied with the way things are at the moment, yet when we dug deeper a shocking 1 in 3 said they had personally experienced or knew someone who had suffered some form of abuse, neglect or malpractice whilst being cared for.

Compounding the issue, more than half of those affected by poor care in the last three years didn't report it because they didn't trust the system to do anything as a result.

The eight rights we have set out in our consultation are a starting point. We think they will help us all to be more confident in saying what we expect from health and care services, about how we should be treated and what options should be open to us to ensure that we all receive the safe, dignified and high quality care we deserve.

But this is not the Magna Carta. It is not up to 25 Barons standing in a field to thrash out how this framework of rights should work. We developed these rights with consumers and now we want your views about the role the public has to play in driving change in health and care. We need to use real life experiences of patients and the public to inform the discussion and work out whether these are the rights you need, whether or not they work in practice and if we have missed anything.

During the development of the draft rights we found there was a real desire amongst consumers to also talk about responsibilities. The consultation will therefore explore this idea and tackle issues such as the inappropriate use of services. For example, people who repeatedly miss appointments or those who turn up at A&E for non-emergency issues because they don't want to wait to see their GP.

Early findings of the consultation will be reported back on World Consumer Rights Day on 15 March, with the ultimate aim of finalising a complementary set of consumer rights and responsibilities for both health and social care that is easy to understand and practical for us all to use. Armed with this, we hope the public will feel empowered to challenge services to become more consumer focused and put people at the heart of the health and social care system.

You can contribute your thoughts by visiting The consultation will close on 10 March 2014.