Health chiefs: “we will make sure everybody’s voice is heard” in consultation


Every comment submitted to a consultation on realigning medical services across Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes (BLMK) will be recorded and submitted to the decision-makers, a meeting has heard.

Michelle Summers, associate director of communications and engagement at BLMK CCG, gave an update to the CCG’s General Meeting in Public (28 September) on the consultation process to align three place-based policies.

These are services that are either not provided across all the former clinical commissioning groups (CCG), or there is a difference in the way the services are provided.

Three areas of policy alignment have been identified as requiring a public consultation; gluten-free food prescribing, the Pharmacy First Minor Ailment, and Fertility Services.

Except in exceptional circumstances, for example, where patients could be at risk of dietary neglect, only the Luton Clinical Commissioning Group (LCCG) provides gluten-free foods (bread and flour) on prescription.

The Pharmacy First Minor Ailment Scheme provides over the counter medicines free of charge for people with limited incomes and is only available from Milton Keynes CCG (MKCCG).

There is a variation with Fertility Services across the area; MKCCG and Bedfordshire CCG (BCCG) both offer one cycle of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment, while LCCG offers three.

BLMK CCG’s preferred options are to:

  • withdraw the gluten-free bread and flour available on prescription in Luton (whilst ensuring access when appropriate)
  • to withdraw Pharmacy First in Milton Keynes and to reduce the current offer of three cycles of IVF to residents in Luton to one cycle for all eligible patients
  • and to extend access to the service

Read: Local fertility services a ‘postcode lottery’ with hopeful Bedford parents offered fewer cycles than Luton

Dr Edward Sivills, the interim medical director, was involved in the engagement process and was one of the teams that recently gave a presentation on these plans to Bedford Borough Council.

“A point they raised was when we ask the public for their opinions, how do we ensure that we give adequate weight to all the responses”, he asked. “Rather than focus on the people who perhaps hold very strong views?

“How do we make sure that those views are representative of the whole population and not just the ones who are more likely to fill in the responses because they have a vested interest?”

Michelle Summers responded, “We make sure that in the analysis that everybody’s voice is heard, if there are 8,000 comments, then there will be 8,000 comments recorded in the proposal.”

Dr Sivills put forward an example where only eight responses for the IVF treatment were given, all from people who had gone through the treatment, and none from people who weren’t interested in it.

“How to make sure that the views are fully representative of our million patients?” he asked.

Ms Summers said that the CCG is also consulting with partners, such as Health Watch and local authorities, who will be putting forward the views of those who may not have responded directly to the consultation.

“The governing body’s role is to take what we have heard in the round and make the decisions going forward in terms of what’s fair”, she said.

Dr Sarah Whiteman, BLMK CCG chair, added, “Ultimately, the consultation is about collating the views. It is the CCG that has to make the difficult decisions about what to commission based on evidence.

“Of course, it isn’t just about the money, it’s also about value for money and whether or not three [fertility] cycles offer that or not, for example.

“So it is a complex argument.”

The public consultation is planned to be held from 12 October 2021 through to 21 December 2021.

The governing body will make its decision on the realignments in February 2022.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter