Memorandum by Ann Richardson
I have only recently been apprised of the existence
of your Committee, which is of great interest to me. I have been
working in the area of public consultation and participation since
the early 1970s, primarily as an academic commentator. (The principal
publication which might be of interest is Participation (Routledge
Kegan Paul, 1983, although I have also written in the areas of
participation in housing, health and social security.)
But about six years ago, I developed a pioneering
system for public consultation in the health arena, namely Health
Panels. You may well know about these, but if not, the enclosed
article from the British Medical Journal gives some background
information. I feel that these have a relevance far beyond the
field of health and would hope that the Committee would give them
In brief, Health Panels were set up for much
the same reason as citizens juries (which came later), ie to provide
an arrangement whereby ordinary members of the public could deliberate
on complex issues before coming to a view. They consist of a discussion
forum for eight to 12 people, meeting for up to two hours, where
issues of concern to a health authority are put to them. A small
amount of information is provided to get the discussion going
and members are invited to vote following their deliberation,
so that one knows their final views "when push comes to shove",
unlike ordinary focus groups where it can be very unclear.
Health Panels were first set up in Somerset
in 1993 and I have since set them up in three other authorities
(and, I believe, some authorities may be undertaking them themselves).
They provide a useful means whereby public values can be elicited,
ie they are not so useful for technical questions but are an excellent
means of finding views toward self-inflicted illness, ageism in
treatment, attitudes to issues which are on the margins of traditional
health care (such as IVF or vasectomy reversals) and the like.
They are also often used as a means of eliciting public priorities
between different spending options.
Health Panels meet two or three times a year,
depending on the Authority. In order to bring in new people, there
is a rolling turnover in the membership, with some members "retiring"
at each meeting and some new members joining. They are facilitated
by a professional moderator, taped and transcribed and reports
prepared both for the Authority and for the members themselves
(a summary). Because they are ongoing, Health Panels can have
a notable impact on managers who begin to wonder how members of
the public will respond to issues concerning them.
Health Panels are relatively inexpensive to
run, roughly £2,000-£,2500 per Panel. Thus, if there
are six Panels meeting twice a year, the cost is no more than
I hope this information is helpful to you. If
you would like to know more about this system for public consultation,
do please feel free to contact me.
Dr Ann Richardson