From a sombre starting point at the onset of lockdown when the Health Consumers Queensland team were faced with the prospect of COVID-19 significantly impacting the work of the many wonderful health consumers on our network as well as our engagement partners at Queensland Health, we are instead ending the year able to celebrate extraordinary growth across the health engagement space with you all.

We have never seen such incredible numbers. And we are so proud of how hard we have all worked this year to ensure consumer voices are heard when key decisions are being made – going the extra mile time and time again to achieve this. Thank you to everyone involved and a special thanks to our extraordinary team:

Melissa Fox, Chief Executive Officer
A key part of Melissa Fox’s role this year has been to strongly advocate for consumer involvement in all parts of the health system. She sits on key committees and decision-making groups and has been a true and strong voice ensuring consumers are involved in key decision-making.

Indeed, without Melissa’s advocacy early in March at a large system wide forum with representatives from Queensland Health, including the Chief Health Officer and the Director-General, where she identified the potential consequences of Queensland’s health system not engaging swiftly and meaningfully with consumers and the community, the voice of consumers may not have been heard to the extent they have. “Speak up even when your voice shakes”, is a phrase that seems quite a good fit for Melissa this year. She’s been a fearsome leader and we’ve achieved what we have largely because of her determination to ensure consumers are heard. Thank you.

Jo Smethurst, Senior Engagement Advisor
Jo’s calming influence has reached across all our work this year and everyone in the organisation has wanted to download Jo’s deep knowledge of consumer partnerships. She consistently brings this important work alive with enviable fluency, and an endless fund of stories, common sense and sensitivity.

Jo has worked tirelessly to connect consumers from across the state on similar groups and ensure there has been more effective information sharing across the system. Jo, along with other Health Consumers Queensland staff members, has held regular meetings for Statewide HHS Consumer Advisory Group consumer leaders and consumer representatives on Statewide Clinical Networks. Importantly, for the first time ever, the new Queensland Health Governance Structure supports greater consumer, clinician and First Nations representatives. Jo has been supporting the consumer reps across these committees to ensure partnerships are strong and effective. Thank you.

Nicole O’Keane, Office Manager
Nicole has been the glue that has held the organisation together throughout this year.  With less than a week’s notice, she set us all up working from home – a move that has been crucial to the success of all our efforts this year. She has also single-handedly woman-ed our office phone and made sure any late-comers could didn’t miss out on those non-stop Zoom sessions. Thank you.

Anne Curtis, Specific Projects
Since January, Health Consumers Queensland has also completed 15 kitchen table discussion projects with the majority taking place since the first impacts of COVID-19.  790 Queenslanders from across the state have participated in 95 kitchen table discussions on topics including Hospital in the Home, the Future State of Primary Healthcare (national project through CHF) and kitchen table projects for Palliative Care Queensland, Children by Choice, Darling Downs West Moreton Primary Health Network and the Australian Dental Association Queensland.

We have been able to achieve this incredible amount of consultation by enabling our amazing consumer hosts to hold their discussions in-person under COVID guidelines, or online via Zoom. We thank you all for your work in enabling people in your local communities who are not normally heard by the public health system to continue to have a voice. Immense thanks to Anne Curtis for leading this important work for us, and to Nicole O’Keane and Kirra Wilson for their unfailing support. Thank you.

Chelsea Gourgaud, Engagement Advisor
In spite of lockdown and Queensland Health pivoting to its COVID-19 response, consumer partnerships have seen extra-ordinary growth.  Within two years we have almost doubled the amount of consumers getting involved.

Special thanks to Chelsea Gourgaud for her hard work and dedication to ensure these requests are genuine and meaningful for the staff and consumers alike. Chelsea and others in the team supported 83 requests from health staff to involve consumers in their work. She has read nearly 500 consumer expressions of interest and helped to select 326 consumers for various activities. The Annual Survey (next story) found that consumers and staff alike said the process of consumer recruitment was highly effective.  (4/5 across all areas of it). Thank you.

Suzanne Wirges, Engagement Advisor

In March we realised we needed a pool of health consumers who could respond quickly to the Queensland Health COVID response. Suzanne Wirges set up a COVID-19 community of interest for consumers and we now have 201 members on it. These consumers have had the opportunity to attend our regular on-line Consumer Conversations and over this year we’ve had more than 500 attendances. What the consumers said has been listened to and responded by key staff in the Department of Health.

Suzanne listened to the feedback we received from the Consumer Conversations and kept making refinements to ensure it was a safe and effective space for consumers to share their lived experience. By the end of the year we had held 26 on-line Consumer Conversations with and the survey results show that they were viewed as being very effective.  Thank you.

Reema Naresh, Engagement Advisor

Reema has pivoted our training program to ensure that we could continue to build the capacity of staff and consumers around consumer partnership in a year when we couldn’t provide our regular face to face training. It has been an extraordinary success.

In all, nearly 800 Queensland Health staff attended 12 lunch time training sessions since July with a further 235 staff viewing the session recordings later. Survey results from training participants shows that it was rated highly as being useful and effective. In total we’ve run 23 training sessions for engagement staff, emerging consumers, HHSs and health staff. Thank you.

Leonie Sanderson, Engagement Consultant
Since 2016, Leonie has been providing engagement expertise and support for the development of a new mental health service for young people in Queensland with severe and complex mental health issues. With the opening of Jacaranda Place: the Queensland Adolescent Extended Treatment Centre and several  related youth mental health services in the first part of 2020, a significant milestone was reached in the delivery of services for vulnerable young people.

Alongside Chelsea, Leonie has also been involved in setting up Health Consumers Queensland’s Youth Reference Group which has amplified the voice of young people during COVID-19. Many of these young people participated in the December Queensland Clinical Senate meeting and shared their lived experience with heart and courage; and made a deep impact on the more than 100 clinicians attending that Senate meeting. Thank you.

Alison Rich, Editor at large

In our Annual Survey you told us that our eAlerts were one of the stand-outs of great work done by us this year. More people said the eAlert was ‘very effective’ at sharing information compared to any other mechanism. Thank you to Alison Rich, our dedicated eAlert editor, for ensuring you each receive a bumper edition every week.

Every week Alison has ensured that Health Consumers Queensland has closed the feedback loop with consumers about what you said, what we heard, and what has happened as a consequence. Alison has also speedily pulled together Issues Papers after each of the Consumer Conversations which we’ve shared with key staff in the Department and we know that many of these have influenced and shaped policy, planning and key decisions being made rapidly in 2020. Thank you.

Kirra Wilson, Administrator Extraordinaire

Kirra has jumped into the organisation with gusto, starting in October and quickly learning the ins and outs of organising Kitchen Table Discussions, and supporting like a boss the consumer representative requests process (the biggest year ever!) and the million and one other things that come her way. Starting a new job on-line isn’t easy and she’s made a big positive impact on the organisation already. Thank you.

Health Consumers Queensland Board and Chair
Last but not least, the Board members of Health Consumers Queensland have provided incredible support and safety for the staff. They ensured the office shut down early in the pandemic which ensured a smooth transition to working from home; and supported everything the organisation has been doing. In particular, the Chair, Dr Erin Evans has stepped into an ever increasing number of decision making committees and working groups for Queensland Health. Erin is currently advocating strongly for consumers on clear and easy-to-access information about the potential new COVID-19 vaccine and its implementation across the state. Thank you all.