Welcome to the Voice Exchange!

Hello, I’m Laura and I am very excited to be writing this blog to tell you all about our latest project, the Voice Exchange. 


Last year, we began chatting with Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) about the future of mental health services in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. As champions of lived experience, we know just how important it is to listen to people, so we were thrilled to launch the Voice Exchange in January 2021


So, what is it? Well, the Voice Exchange is a project that listens to people’s experiences of inpatient and outpatient mental health services. We do this in several ways – we have a Citizen’s Group, which meets once a month, made up of people with direct experience. We also have a Deliberation Group running alongside this, bringing together individuals who have extensive experience of representing service users.  


We have now hosted our first virtual drop-in sessions as well. These are open for anyone to come along and share their experiencesEach session lasts an hour and our next one will be at 12pm on Saturday 10 April. You can find the information and zoom link at https://healthwatchcwl.co.uk/get-involved/voice-exchange/ 


The project is running until September 2021 and we hope in the coming months to gather a wide range of views and experience. As we begin discussing what’s working and what could be improved, I will share updates here on this blog.  


I would love to know your thoughts too – just come along to a drop-in session or email me using the details below. 


Thank you to everyone who has been involved so far in the Voice Exchange – here’s to shaping the future! 


Until next month, stay safe and well, 


Laura May 

Voice Exchange, Healthwatch Central West London 


07568 398908 

What have we learnt from our recent COVID-19 engagement work with LEGS?

We have published a COVID-19 insight report in collaboration with LEGS. The report highlights the impact of COVID-19 on those who have had a stroke or who are living with a neurological condition.


When the pandemic took hold earlier this year, we wanted to reach people in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea who are under-represented in conversations about health and social care and ensure their voices are heard during this challenging period. To do this, we collaborated with local community groups to run focus group sessions, interviews, and surveys. Our latest report presents the results of a focus group carried out with LEGS.


A number of recurring issues and themes have emerged over the course of our collaborative work on the impact of COVID-19. Many of these themes were seen in our work with LEGS.


Digital exclusion


Across our engagement work on COVID-19, digital exclusion is an issue which has been frequently discussed.


From listening to participants’ stories, we found that a lack of access to and understanding of new technologies can present a significant barrier for support and engagement. Some participants told us that even though they had access to technology, they still felt excluded from receiving the support they needed. One participant told us that


“I am using the Zoom platform now, through LEGS, but [my physiotherapist at UCLH, in the hospital for neurology] is using something called Attend Everywhere. I am not young, so using all this new technology is very stressful. Because I have a carer, who is young and understands technology, they could help me.”


Importantly, digital provision does not just exclude people with no access to technology. The ability or desire of someone to use technology for their healthcare are two other important factors that can lead to digital exclusion. The conversation around digital exclusion, and the solutions proposed to ensure all people are included, must take into account that having the appropriate technology is not the only factor in combatting this issue.


Other participants told us that digital solutions did not provide a good replacement for existing arrangements.


One told us that


“Some things you can’t just have on the phone. I go from someone saying, ‘you must come in and have your treatment, to someone saying, ‘now you can’t.”


Another participant observed that


“Being with the person you are talking to really does help.”


Digital exclusion is an important issue. It is an issue with many different sides, perspectives, and problems. At the moment, we are in the process of developing a project to engagement substantially with the issue in the coming months.


Access to non-emergency treatment


Participants across much of our COVID-19 engagement work have expressed worries about the long-term impact of cancelled appointments, check-ups, and non-emergency surgeries. This was an issue that we explored in detail in our collaboration with LEGS.


Participants told us about the strain they feel living with uncertainty about their treatment. As one participant put it


“I am waiting for everything; it’s all been rescheduled. Nothing is urgent, but it’s all ongoing.”


This is an issue which many people have spoken to us about. In our work with Breathe Easy Westminster, for instance, we found that 10% of participants have had trouble accessing regular medication from their pharmacy. As health and social care service providers begin to put in place long-term plans for living with COVID-19, stronger arrangements to safeguard vital non-emergency treatments need to be made.


Worries about lockdown easing


During the first, second and third national lockdowns, people have told us about their worries about lockdown easing. People have expressed worry about the long-term impact of these lockdowns, and about how safe life after lockdown will be.


In our focus group with LEGS, which took place one restrictions began to ease after the first national lockdown, one participant told us that


“Going back out after a long time inside was hard. I was scared.”


Some participants also expressed concerns about the safety of going outside. Many people we spoke to had experienced disruptions to physiotherapy treatment which meant leaving the house presented a greater challenge.


From our engagement work it is clear: an awareness of the unique challenges, both mental and physical, which many people will face once restrictions begin to loosen is vital.


Looking forward and safeguarding standards


As measures to contain COVID-19 remain in place, listening to patients’ voices, learning from their experiences, and adapting processes accordingly remains important. It is vital that the voices of patients and carers are listened to in discussions about new ways of working, and when commissioning and evaluating services.


You can read our full report now. We would like to say a massive thank you to LEGS for all their hard work on this project.


Get in touch

Take our updated ‘Coronavirus: Your Experience Matters’ survey now.

If you require the survey in a different format, or you would like a physical copy of the survey, please email us at info@healthwatchcentralwestlondon.org

  • If you wish to just leave us a single comment on how you have been impacted by Coronavirus, please click here
  • Send a text or a video to our Whatsapp number: 07849 08 40 14
  • Join the conversation on our NextDoor group
  • Be part of our Facebook group
  • Talk to us on Twitter
  • Send us a picture that reflects how you are coping on our Instagram
  • Call us on 020 8968 7049

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Young Healthwatch Westminster: what have we achieved this year?

2020 has been a busy year for us at Young Healthwatch Westminster. This year we have worked harder than ever to ensure that young people’s voices are heard to influence the design and delivery of mental health services across Westminster. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how important mental health services are. It has also shown us in detail where services need to improve.


As the year draws to a close, we are looking back at some of the highlights of our work over the last 12 months.


Our mental health survey


In April we launched our mental health survey. We wanted to find out how young people think about their mental health and what causes them stress. We wanted to know what knowledge young people have about local and national support. We also wanted to learn about the impact of COVID-19 on young people’s well-being.


Before the onset of the pandemic, we created a draft survey by discussing as a group of volunteers what issues are most pressing for us. After COVID-19 took hold, we added new questions so that we could find out what impact the pandemic was having on young people’s mental health.


We received a fantastic response to the survey. Over 200 young people responded and told us about their experiences.


In June, we published an interim report which discussed the results of the survey we had received. We also created an infographic to display our findings in a more colourful, visual way.


Through the survey we were able to learn so much about young people’s experience of mental health and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have shared some of these insights with decision makers at regional level, with local councils, NHS Trusts, Public Health England, and various community partners.


Our COVID-19 Q&A webinar


In July we partnered with Hammersmith and Fulham Volunteer Police Cadets, Kooth, and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to run an online COVID-19 Q&A event. In the webinar, young people put their questions about COVID-19 to a panel of experts.


The event gave young people the opportunity to put their questions and concerns to experts and find out accurate, reliable information. A range of different questions and issues were discussed. These included questions on face masks in schools, the possibility of a second wave, the impact of a vaccine, the availability of mental health services and the safety of other medical treatments in hospitals during the pandemic.


One of our key roles at Young Healthwatch is to signpost young people to accurate information on health and social care services. We were delighted to collaborate with other local organisations to provide an innovative and informative webinar to help address young people’s questions and concerns about COVID-19!


Our appearances on One Community Radio


In May and October we went on CNWL’s One Community Radio show to share our work with residents, service users, NHS staff and community organisations.


In our first appearance, our volunteers Civan, Jane, and Rupert talked about the need to end stigma around mental health problems. We talked about the priority given to physical health over mental health, the benefits of psychotherapy and the need for greater mental health awareness for people of all generations. In our second appearance, we hosted an interactive quiz that debunked myths around various mental health conditions.


We have really enjoyed working with the One Community Radio team and finding new ways to communicate our messages about mental health to local people. It was a pleasure to be involved in the project!


Our work with Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea youth councils


In November, we brought together Westminster Youth Council and Kensington & Chelsea Youth Council for the first (of hopefully many) bi-borough meetings. This meeting gave us the opportunity to hear from young people across the two boroughs. We found out how young people think about their mental health and what their experiences of mental health services have been.


Our chair, Civan, who also chairs the Westminster Youth Council, led the Mental Health session alongside our volunteer Aaniya. We enjoyed working alongside the Westminster lead, Shofa, and Reginald and Hasheam, who lead the RBKC Youth Council.


After the session, we were pleased to receive some lovely feedback. One member told us:


‘I found it interesting to see what everyone else thought of and I think I enjoyed it because it made me feel less alone even though these were not reflected on us it just helped to talk about it and reflect. I also think it made us think that everyone is going through something and lockdown has been hard on all of us and we should be kind to everyone not knowing what they are going through.’


We are looking forward to more joint bi-borough meetings in 2021.


Our work on Healthwatch’s Annual Meeting


Earlier this month three of our volunteers, Civan, Rupert and Ava spoke at Healthwatch Central West London’s Annual Meeting. They spoke about our work this year, their experiences volunteering for Young Healthwatch, why having good mental health services is important and how passionate they are to make positive change.


We received lovely feedback about our work and our volunteers from attendees at the meeting.  They told us how impressed they were with our work this year, and how much they enjoyed hearing from us at the meeting. We have exciting plans for the future to share our work widely with as many organisations and people as possible!


Thank you


We would like to say a massive thank you to all our volunteers for all their hard work, dedication and time in helping us achieve so much this year. All your work is greatly appreciated.


We would also like to say thank you to everyone who has worked with us, filled out our survey, shared their experiences with us, or reached out in any way.


We have exciting plans in place for 2021. We are looking forward to further campaigning to raise awareness of mental health issues and pushing for constructive change in mental health services.


Get in touch


If you are aged between 11 – 25 and live, work or study in or around the borough of Westminster, you can apply to join YHWW by emailing Alex on alex.weston@healthwatchcentralwestlondon.org or call us on 020 8968 7049 and ask for an application form.


For more information, resources and guidance check out our Instagram @yhwwestminster and our webpage.