2020 will go down as the year when consumers in Queensland stood shoulder to shoulder with their public health system thanks to the efforts of so many committed and passionate consumers and dedicated consumer champions within Queensland Health.

So please forgive us if we shed quite a few happy tears during our final Consumer Conversation for the year on Wednesday.  There was so much to celebrate by the fourteen consumers, Health Consumers Queensland team members and Dr Alex Markwell, Chair of the Queensland Clinical Senate and a tireless consumer champion who supported our bid to be around the table at the beginning of COVID-19 and has partnered meaningfully with us throughout this time.

Together we all shared our perspectives on the incredible Health Consumers Queensland Covid-19 Community of Interest and reflected upon the impact that the conversations, consultations and discussions held during this extraordinary time in all our lives.

The COVID-19 Community of Interest and our online Consumer Conversations were established almost overnight through existing Health Consumers Queensland networks to enable rapid, accessible and inclusive consumer consultation on unprecedented challenges for the health system..

Over 600 consumers and observers/speakers from Queensland Health have attended 24 Consumer conversations since the end of March. Based on what you told us about what was and wasn’t working in the public health system, you trusted us to put together 22  Issues Papers and we shared these across the Department and all the Hospitals and Health Services to inform the response to COVID-19.

The hottest topics (and most well attended sessions) included our update sessions early in the pandemic, PPE, managing chronic conditions during COVID-19, delaying healthcare and the review of our COVIDSafe App Decision Making document.  In more recent months, the session on accessing COVID-19 testing was the most popular with you all.

During this week’s Conversation we asked: What have the Conversations meant to you, to your consumer representative work and what impact have they had on Queensland Health.

Consumers told us:

  • The Consumer Conversations have empowered consumers to actually talk directly to the Department during COVID-19. Compared to Victoria and other states where consumers have had difficulty getting their voices heard, “our relationship with Queensland Health and their relationship with us seems to have had a better result in containing COVID.”
  • They’ve provided us with a platform especially when there has been a Queensland Heath representative in the session. “Everyone [participants, ordinary health consumers and clinicians] can learn from us.”
  • As a result of the feedback from the Conversations which one consumer representative has taken back to the Rural and Remote Clinical Network, the Network is now adding another consumer representative in acknowledgement of the fact that one consumer representative cannot do it all.
  • They’ve shown that consumers are a valuable resource and have a role to play.
  • “They’ve given me knowledge and I’ve been able to join more consumer representative projects.”
  • “I have been feeding back the consumer conversation template [and the kitchen table discussion template” to the health regulator, AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency), as an excellent example of consumer engagement.  AHPRA has been directed by the Health Ministers to include consumer bodies and communities in decision-making about public safety. The Community Reference Group group [I am on] is pushing for state level CRGs within AHPRA so there is a closer connection.”
  • “We’ve gained information which we tuck in the back our heads and carry it around to our committees. We’ve become well informed about what’s happening and what are the challenges.”
  • “It has helped us build our confidence. I speak more loudly than I used to and the clinicians on our Clinical Networks actually have more of a listening ear now.”

One consumer also observed: “2020 has been a watershed year for helping consumers to understand that Queensland Health is not just a group of people sitting in an office. They became humanised this year. They did a fantastic job during COVID and showed great leadership.”

Dr Alex Markwell spoke of the “amazing” collaboration with consumers and the relationship between the Queensland Clinical Senate and Health Consumers Queensland which has come of age during COVID-19. In the early days when the reality of what was happening across the world was confronting clinicians in Queensland, the authoritative input from consumers helped them re-focus. Alex also cited the usefulness of consumer advice on cancer screening, PPE and the Compassionate Conversations resource to help clinicians talk to family members about a loved one being unwell. The fact that there were too many examples for Alex to list was “another demonstration of how valuable the relationship has been this year.

We also asked: How can we develop the Consumer Conversations next year and what are the issues which matter to you?

For many of you, COVID-19 has only served to highlight issues which were there before. Next year you would like to re-focus attention on:

  • Mental health
  • Suicide prevention
  • NDIS
  • Removing labels and seeing the person. “Changing attitudes within Queensland Health towards people who have intellectual disabilities.”
  • Complex health issues
  • People with disabilities
  • First Nations people
  • Charges for telehealth.
  • People are falling off waiting lists
  • Reducing loneliness in the wider community
  • Social determinants of health
  • Digital health

You’d also like to see follow up of some of the positive changes e.g. telehealth as well as formal evaluation of the role of the consumer representative and our impact conducted by Queensland Health and make sure consumers have a seat at the decision-making tables as cuts are being made.

We’ll also be addressing the timings, sending invitations earlier, and offering more opportunities to feedback via email or other methods.

Thank you to everyone who attended this final Conversation. It has been a privilege to ensure your voices have been heard this year and we look forward to many more Conversations in the future.

If you were not able to attend the Conversation this week and would like to share your thoughts or you’d like to add further reflections please complete our short survey on the Consumer Conversations below. It will be open until 8am Monday 14 December.