The event included a mix of high-profile speakers, theatre sessions, pop-up universities, feature zones and a range of opportunities to make new connections. It was great to see National Voices lead and contribute to some of these sessions. On Day 1, Keymn Whervin, Co-Production Manager, chaired a session looking at “The voluntary and community sector: the secret weapon for joining up care for people” where speakers explored the benefits of the VCSE sector coming together within Integrated Care Systems to provide more holistic, joined-up care.
On the second day, we heard from Sarah Sweeney, Head of Policy, on the “Core20Plus Connectors” programme. Over the past year, National Voices have contributed to the NHS South, Central and West Commissioning Support Unit led Community Connectors programme, in a bid to support the wider Core20PLUS5 initiative. Sarah spoke about the importance of taking an asset-based approach to work with communities, of working as equals with people with lived experience and of being ready to take action to address system issues of inequality and injustice.
And finally, to wrap up our time at Expo, Charlotte Augst chaired a session on “Learning from COVID-19: how to build patient and community voice into integrated care system thinking” where, using the success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme as a starting point, speakers explored ways to engage, understand, and deliver services to diverse communities. As Charlotte perfectly summarised, “we need to combine the power of medicine with the power of community if we want good things to happen”.
A notable part of the conference was listening to Amanda Pritchard’s “Because we are the NHS” speech, which included a focus on recovery, reform, resilience and respect, and the need for more collaborative and partnership working to “provide the best possible care to patients, centered on innovation, early intervention and system working”. It was less heartening however, to hear Sajid Javid declare that further funding for the NHS “is neither sustainable, desirable or necessary” in his speech. With current workforce and resourcing pressures, we’re already seeing people’s care being negatively impacted by long waiting times and inadequate social care provision.
The Expo was a much-needed chance to catch-up with friends, old and new. After almost three years of being stuck in tiny MS Teams boxes, it was refreshing and energizing to be able to meet up with colleagues in-person and to connect with new people. For me personally, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to better understand the inner workings of health and care in the UK, and to have met inspiring individuals with whom we can collaborate with, to make sure we make what matters to people matter in health and care.