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The thoughts of our Chief Officer, Neil Walbran

neil walbran chief officer manchester healthwatch
In this blog post, we hear from Manchester Healthwatch Chief Officer

So, Neil, how’s it going?

Going really well. We’re in our new office, which is a superb location.

We now have a team of six people who are making a massive contribution making sure the citizen’s voice is amplified and heard at the right level.

Manchester Men Speak Up! Is the first of our forums and something I’m very proud to see come together and I’m really excited about this area of work. Men in Manchester have needed something like this for a long time and I’m really glad we’ve been instrumental in making this happen.

What keeps you motivated at work?

Keeping motivated at work? Quite a lot of things but the main ones? Here goes:

Firstly, when we get a call or enquiry from somebody who’s experienced a very poor health or care outcome, that really grounds and reminds me of why our work is so important.

Usually it’s somebody who experiences health inequalities due to their condition or their background.  And whenever we hear a story like that or we meet somebody like that, that always keeps you motivated. Yeah.

Secondly it’s getting out and about with the team and dropping in on community venues where we meet people and get a much clearer face to face understanding of what people are dealing with and we’re able to help them with that. It’s also fun being out there chatting, handing out freebies and so on. Something we all really missed doing through lockdown.

Lastly it’s when one of our investigations and its recommendations has an impact and there’s real improvements to a service where people have raised an issue like access or a gap in delivery, especially if co-production is involved.

Healthwatch Manchester is ten years old next year. Can you give us some highs and lows from the past ten years?

Well, we’ll do a high and a low and a high. How does that sound?

I think one of the highs was when we did our work with homeless people and access to mental health services. And we worked with Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust, who were brilliant.

As a result of the report we did and its recommendations the Trust established a mental health care pathway for homeless people, assigned two clinicians to that pathway, and also doubled the front line staff to assist homeless people into mental health services.  So I’m really proud of that work. That was a really great piece of work.

One of the lows?  It was when we all scrambled to go and work from home when the pandemic hit.  That was a low point. It was such a worry.  And the calls we got from frantic people about COVID in care and nursing homes such as wanting to move their mum or their dad out of care or being told their mum or their dad had to go into a care home – in both instances when they had been told COVID was present there. We weren’t able to assist or help them at all with that. That was a very, very distressing and sad time to be working in Healthwatch and taking those calls and enquiries.

Let’s end on a high and I’ll pick moving into our new office at Railway Cottage. It’s somewhere we can call our own, it’s got great character and what a location!

There’s just one more question.  Why do you consider the voices of citizens to be so important in health and care?

Because a lot of the time when there’s an issue or a problem in a service, the answer to dealing with that problem lies with the service user, and service users will tell you straight up how this problem needs to be fixed. And it’s almost always the right answer.

Also, let’s look at the NHS constitution. NHS is set up to be for the people. It’s owned by us and therefore it’s subject to citizen scrutiny. So to provide that scrutiny, Healthwatch is here.

So that’s why the voice of the citizen is so important. I mean, not only is it important because it’s very useful, it’s important because it’s absolutely required.

Thank you so much for your time, Neil.


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