PPGs have existed since 1972 when they were introduced by Dr Peter Pritchard but GP practices have only been contractually required to have a Patient Participation Group (PPG) since 2015.
There are no specific requirements on how to run a PPG but Dr Patricia Wilkie OBE, National Association of Patient Participation (NAPP) president and chairman, volunteers to help GPs and practice managers to understand the benefits of having a PPG.
Dr Wilkie, who has worked for more than 40 years helping patients participate in health discussions both in England and Scotland, believes that ‘PPG is a sounding board for the practice manager, a support and a feeder of information’.
She continues: ‘The practice manager only knows patients who are coming into the practice, but the PPG knows more patients, also those who attend very irregularly.’
PPG can also inform on the needs of the population the practice serves. For this reason, Dr Wilkie encourages to seek patients’ advice before making any decision.
‘Let’s say the practice manager wants to introduce touchscreen check-in into the practice. Before anybody goes, buys it and installs it, discuss it with the PPG.
‘Do you think this would work? Do you think everybody would use it? Do you think people would need help? And what about people who have got poor sight for example? You’ll still need to have a receptionist at the counter,’ she says.
‘A critical friend’
Dr Wilkie argues that PPG chair is a practice manager’s ‘critical friend’, as they can help them by offering a critical point of view or advice on anything new they might want to implement at the practice.
‘They’re not there to say how marvellous you are all the time or how marvellous the practice is but they’re there to help,’ she adds.
A PPG chair can also prevent a problem from escalating by privately talking to the practice manager or senior partner about the grudges that some patients might hold towards a member of staff, Dr Wilkie suggests.
Dr Wilkie thinks that ‘social media is becoming increasingly important for PPGs’.
Several practices, such as Alvanley Family Practice in Stockport and Adelaide Street Family Practice in Blackpool, have implemented a virtual PPG, either running solo or along with their PPG’s face-to-face meetings.
They say that this is a way of broadening patient participation and including those who cannot attend face-to-face PPG meetings in the talks.
‘Social media is increasingly important.
‘Not all PPGs use social media but it’s clearly going to be one way ahead for PPG’s to work with members of their community,’ says Dr Wilkie.
‘Patients have more to offer practices than their illnesses’
Sometimes, Dr Wilkie finds that practice managers are not interested enough in engaging with their patients, because they think it is both a time-consuming process and fear they will find themselves blocked in a room full of people moaning.
‘Patients don’t fit into one particular category. There are patients who have never worked, or who were former labourers, former personal assistants (Pa), secretarial people or former general managers of big companies. They cover a wide variety of skills and they bring these skills with them.
‘As the first NAPP secretary Joan Mant said, “patients have more to offer practices than their illnesses”,’ she says.
Dr Patricia Wilkie OBE is the President and Chairman of the National Association for Patient Participation.