HEALTH champions from more than 20 charities and support groups came together at the largest forum of its kind in Swindon in a bid to transform the face of care in the town.

Delegates from health and social care organisations including Age UK, Parkinson’s Society, Swindon Parents & Carers Group, Open Door and the Great Western Hospital met at the council offices at the inaugural Healthwatch Swindon health and social care forum yesterday.

The forum, instigated by independent group Healthwatch Swindon, was the opportunity for groups with very diverse priorities and goals to air their concerns about the standard of care received by patients at Swindon’s hospital.

It was also designed as a medium for groups to work more closely together for the benefit of residents in the town.

The GWH’s efforts to improve its complaints system and boost feedback from patients was at the centre of the debate which saw groups grill Rob Mauler, head of customer services at GWH.

While some appreciated the NHS trust’s steps to survey users via new means, including social media, many in attendance made the case for vulnerable patients unable to express their views, demanding action.

Others felt major strides were required towards better communication between health staff, patients and their carers to improve care in Swindon.

Joy Perkins, of Swindon Parents & Carers Group said: “Patients information is not being put in a database, not even that of people with complex needs.

“When I put in a complaint to PALS (Patient Advice Liasion Service) they sent me a letter of apology and said they had chased it up but didn’t say what they were going to do about it or what they were going to put in place. What we want is not apologies but action.”

Others criticised what they saw as rigid protocol, which on occasion meant medication for conditions unrelated to patients’ reason for being in hospital being delayed, as was feeding time for gastro-fed patients.

Brenda Willis of the Epilepsy Society said: “People sometimes need food or medication critically and protocol means they don’t get what they need when they need it. We need new protocols especially when people can’t speak for themselves.”

Rob Mauler said every effort would be made not only to collate as much feedback as possible and learn from patients but to reach out to community groups representing the most vulnerable in Swindon.

He also explained better communication between staff and patients and more individualised care was one of the hospital’s priorities.

“We are trying to make our complaints system more simple and effective and we want to try and understand patients’ journeys through our services better.

“We want to make sure we deliver the best service possible and the big challenge for us is getting the right balance. It’s really hard to develop a service that meets everyone’s expectations.

“A hospital can be a scary place for many people and we are trying to make sure our staff talk to people, deliver safe individualised care and develop communication to allay patients’ concerns. We need to think of ways we can improve and how we can do better.

“The next stage will be trying to reach out to vulnerable people through groups and forums like this one.”