Membership: do I sign the dotted line?

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Signing up to be a member of my local gym took a lot of thought. Putting the cost to one side I wanted to be sure this gym was right for me and I asked myself a few questions; will I be committed and what will the value be? These questions weren’t too dis-similar when I became a member of my local healthcare organisation.

Having already been a member of a gym I knew the things I liked and wanted out of the new gym. I wanted a gym that offered a range of equipment and a variety of classes with helpful staff that could offer me advice and support to improving my fitness. I was also impressed with a little device that would track my progress in the gym!

Signing up to be a member of an organisation involved similar things. I wanted to know and be part of an organisation that was local to me, and could potentially be a health service I, or a loved one, uses in the future. I also have a specialist interest in some services such as mental health and learning disability – as I previously worked in an organisation offering this service – and the ambulance trust as my husband works there. The opportunities to be involved in each organisation were flexible and based on my time I had to commit.

In my previous NHS career I have worked for a Foundation Trust and an aspiring Foundation Trust where both had a membership scheme. I have seen at first-hand the value and input members have offered to organisations, and how their views and feedback has helped make a difference for others. We had systems in the organisation to track what level of involvement members could offer, data based on their postcodes about their hobbies, places they like to go and how best to communicate them as well as a feature that recorded their input at the Trust. Some people would misinterpret the word ‘membership’ and assume a cost was involved – but this is not the case. The only ‘cost’ associated is your time and dedication to being involved.

The commissioning world is keen to follow these steps and there are a few clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that also now have a membership scheme. I believe that as long as an organisation sets out clear objectives of recruiting members, and that the quality of peoples’ input is more valuable than the number of members signed up – this is the way forward.

Signing up as a member – whether it is to your local gym or a healthcare organisation – you are showing you are committed and want to be involved. Let’s not forget we are all patients of the NHS and all have the right to have a say on how it works in the future, and a membership scheme is one way to do it. So, if you are approached or get sent information about signing up to be a member of the local organisation, ask yourself the same questions that I did. Then I’m sure I will not be the only one signing the dotted line. 

Penny Gibbs is a member of the Communications and Engagement currently working on Involvement.

About involvement: Involvement allows people to network and share ideas and experiences about the participation agenda. It offers people who work in engagement the support and guidance to reach deeper into communities so that they have more opportunities to take part in healthcare decisions.

Involvement is a Patient and Public Participation (PPP) programme Midlands and Lancashire CSU has been commissioned to deliver by NHS England. www.nhsinvolvement.co.uk.

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