A nationwide campaign was launched earlier this week to encourage the establishment of more Patient Participation Groups (PPG) to help give patients a louder voice in primary care.

The joint initiative is being run by the Royal College of General Practitioners, NHS Alliance, the British Medical Association and umbrella PPG organisation the National Association of Patient Participation, with backing from the Department of Health, and is designed to help raise public awareness of PPGs and the benefits they can bring to both patients and GP practices.

More than 40% of practices across the country already have existing PPGs, which have been around for 25 years, but establishment of these groups has stalled and so it is hoped that the campaign will help to inject some new life into the scheme through the promotion of its potential benefits to all involved.

Essentially, PPGs provide a solid platform for patients to meet with doctors and practice staff and exchange information and new ideas, thereby helping to forge a closer relationship between the providers and users of care. They offer an easy mechanism for patients to get more involved in tailoring health services to meet the needs of locals, and on the flip side can help practices better account for their provision of healthcare services.

According to Professor Steve Field, chair of the RCGPs: “By having an active PPG in a GP practice, both sides can learn from each other. This brings great benefits all round, not least in helping practices run more effectively and providing services that local people need and want”.

Vital to continuity of care
The BMA has also stressed that in the current climate of NHS change – particularly with the emergence of new primary care centres, for example – patient participation is vital to maintaining continuity of care. Furthermore, such groups offers a channel for patients to challenge any reforms they feel are not in the best interests of the local population.

The Association also notes that in its 2008 report Who’s accountable for Health, the Local Government Association has already recommended that every GP practice be required to have a PPG – which it says should have a close relationship with the local involvement network (LINk) - to boost patient and public involvement in primary care and make practices more accountable for the commissioning of services.

And Mike Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, claims that PPGs “are the future for general practice: a means of co-producing health and better services in general practice and ensuring that they are right for every patient population”.

“We will know the future has arrived when every GP practice and polyclinic has a fully effective and engaged patient participation group. We hear endless cant about patient power: this is the real thing”.