My name is Jim Gammans, and along with my colleague Gill Foot we have supported Patient Participation Groups (PPGs) since January 2019. We have divided the county by Primary Care Network (PCN) areas, with myself looking after Jurassic Coast (West Dorset), Weymouth & Portland, mid-Dorset, Bournemouth Central, East Bournemouth, North Bournemouth and Christchurch PCNs.

Our work changed significantly following the outbreak of COVID-19, moving engagement from predominantly face-to-face to using platforms such as Zoom along with emails and regular phone calls to connect with PPGs and practices.

Jim and Gill on a video call

We were very impressed with how responsive PPGs were to the changes in the way they work following the outbreak of the coronavirus. The groups in Weymouth & Portland decided to meet online and increase the frequency of meetings to discuss how they could support patients and their practices in a rapidly changing environment. Following concerns raised about how digitally disadvantaged patients can access primary care services, a questionnaire was agreed and developed to better understand how patients contact their GP, and what access, experience and confidence they have of using the internet and digital technology.

There was a fantastic response to the survey and following publication of the accompanying report, a working group was formed, made from representatives of the GP practices, the PCN and PPGs. The group discussed key findings from the report and worked together to produce a suggested list of improvements for practices and the PCN. A template document was also created by the group, to highlight the process and actions being taken by each practice to share with patients and organisations such as the CQC. The PPGs are now working with their GP practices to jointly identify areas that will help improve the patient experience and are also supporting Bournemouth University with their work on social deprivation and digital exclusion, focusing on the Weymouth & Portland/West Dorset area.

One of the changes we introduced at the start of 2021 was to create a series of PPG webinars, designed to keep group members updated on different subjects such as eConsult and our move to become an Integrated Care System (ICS). One of our most popular events was when two Chairs shared their experiences of being part of their PPG, which included how they devised and promoted events appealing to different patient groups within the practice and how they supported their practice in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.

As we approach the end of the year there are many exciting projects being planned for the next twelve months including new webinar subjects for the start of 2022, supporting a PPG in Dorchester to promote a healthy living and literary event in spring, and sharing the learnings and documents from the project in Weymouth & Portland to benefit other GP practices and PPGs in Dorset – so watch this space!