What is the difference between engagement and consultation?

Some people think that engagement and consultation are the same things. This can lead to confusion when the Fit for my Future team speak to the public. Our programme for health and care is currently carrying out several phases of public engagement. In the autumn/winter of 2019, we’ll be carrying out a formal consultation. So what is the difference?

What is engagement?

Engagement is an ongoing process. We develop relationships with residents in Somerset, as well as organisations that have links to health and care. We want local people to know our thinking when it comes to the future of NHS services. More importantly, we also want to hear what they have to say. This happens from the start of the programme, so that people’s feedback can be included in future plans. 

Examples of engagement that Fit for my Future has carried out include our public engagement in the autumn of 2018. You can read the report here. It explains who we spoke to during our engagement and what they had to say (lots of really useful, thoughtful responses). 

What is consultation? 

If there is going to be a significant change to NHS services, we are required to carry out a consultation. A change needs to be considered for consultation if it there will be a substantial change that affects one or more of the following conditions:

  • Access, such as a change of location or change in the opening hours
  • Wider community, including economic impact, transport and regeneration
  • Patient/service users – those using the services at the moment and those who could potentially use it in the future
  • Service delivery, if for example a service is going to be relocated or the method for delivery could change.

A consultation leads to a decision being made about changes to health and care.

A consultation is designed to get communities involved in decision making.  This helps us to understand how Somerset residents may be affected by the changes. The NHS has to consult with patients and the public as well as overview and scrutiny committees (OSCs) and stakeholders. 

It could include public meetings, but there are many different ways to ensure we hear from Somerset residents. We don’t have a plan for how our Fit for my Future consultation will look yet, but in February 2019 we asked the public to help us make a decision about the criteria we will use for options appraisal (turning a long list of options into a short list). 

Whether it is public engagement or a consultation, your voice matters. It’s a chance to help shape the future of NHS services in Somerset. We always want to hear from you, so don’t hesitate to get in touch!