Regional Forums gather momentum
19 October 2020
Following discussions at the NOC 2019, and a series of consultations among LOCs in early 2020, forums were launched in each of the seven NHS regions in England. The aim was to build practical working links between LOCs in each area, share on-the-ground expertise about the regional challenges faced, and present a cohesive voice for the sector in discussions with stakeholders in wider healthcare. The forums are now becoming well established and have proved a valuable medium for information sharing and communication as the sector has responded to the COVID-19 emergency.
Attendance and engagement at regional forums has been good, with groups adapting meetings to virtual channels. There has been a huge amount of material for discussion as the pandemic progressed and LOCs have come together to debate decisions about the issues involved in activities such as launching the COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES), for example.
Across the country the forums are operating a flat organisational structure, with each LOC participating on an equal footing. LOCSU acts as a facilitator, providing an outline agenda for forum meetings to which LOCs are invited to add topics prior to the meeting.
Nalini Patel, Project Manager at LOCSU, who has been helping to facilitate the forums, has seen some very positive themes and relationships emerging. “Understandably, COVID-19 has been the dominant theme, as there has been so much to discuss and consider,” she says. “But engagement on this specific challenge has sparked closer working relationships and knowledge-sharing between various LOCs on other issues.”
For North Cumbria LOC Chair Alexy Jackson the opportunity to work with other Chairs across the region was particularly helpful when responding to COVID-19: “It was reassuring, at a time when everything was so hectic, to be able to speak to everyone and find out what they were doing to support practices in the area,” she said. “Early on, when we were getting the first advisories and updates from NHS England and the sector bodies, it was very useful to be able to analyse these and establish between us what the key takeaways were going to be for practices.”
Rupesh Bagdai, Chair of the Local Eye Health Network & Optometric Advisor NHS England and NHS Improvement North West (Cheshire & Merseyside) has been attending the North West Regional Forum and says it has been very useful: “At a time where communication has been more important than ever, the LOC regional forum has been a way in which we have been able to communicate with a large number of chairs across the North West.”
Expanding on the benefits, Rupesh added: “It’s been great to have a regular timeslot where we can come together, meet colleagues, share challenges and discuss how we all work together to improve patient care and support the wider system. The forums have enabled LOCSU and LOCs to play an important role throughout this challenging period.”
Building communications channels
One of the key aims of establishing the regional forums was to build a unified voice for each region when representing the sector in critical conversations with bodies such as NHS England, and to be a central point of contact for communications coming the other way. This has been useful during COVID-19 and has ensured that LOCs are kept up to date with what is happening. As Nalini explains: “Some of the forums have been attended by representatives from NHS England, which has proved very productive, especially when representatives aren’t just telling us what is happening, but have also been asking for feedback and getting on-the-ground insight to input into overall strategy.”
Alexy agrees: “As a fairly new LOC Chair it was helpful to put names to faces for the various NHS England optometry representatives in the region. Now I feel more confident that we can get in contact with them when we need to by phone or email.”
Speaking from an external participant’s perspective, Rupesh anticipates that the forums will play a valuable role in complementing local LOC activities: “The regional forum will allow LOCs to work more effectively across regions and build on existing relationships. While LOCs continue to communicate locally with CCGs, the regional forum will allow LOCS to communicate more effectively with wider stakeholders such Integrated Care Systems and NHSE regions.”
In addition to NHSE representatives, forum participants have also included representatives from PCSE, and recently from SeeAbility, coinciding with the launch of the new Pathway for People with Learning Disabilities.
Overall, Alexy feels that the forum is helping improve consistency and idea-sharing: “There is a general benefit to connecting with others who are doing the same role and finding out how different people approach it and where we can improve. It means there will be more consistency on the services we deliver across the region.”
Though the forums are still at a relatively early stage, the positive feedback is an encouraging sign that they are proving their worth and gaining momentum.