Effective Consumer Consultation in the Planning and Delivery of Health and Social Services: A New Zealand Case Study: A Comparative Study of the Theory and Practice of Government Organisations in Engaging Consumers in Consultation
About 600 million people in the world live with disabilities (World Health Organisation, 2007). Over the past ten years there has been increasing calls for government organisations in the health and disability sector to involve consumers in their decision-making, service design and general governance. This has led government health and disability organisations in different countries to try and find ways to ensure consumers are consulted with and involved in decision-making processes (Coney, 2004). The potential benefits of effective consumer consultation are better quality services, policy and planning decisions that a more consumer focused, improved communications and greater ownership of the local health services. For consumers effective consultation can mean they get better outcomes of treatment and support, a more accessible and responsive service and improved health. For the community consultation can help bring about a reduction in health inequalities and provide a health service better able to meet the needs of its constituents (Anderson et al., 2002). There are a number of real and perceived barriers to consumer consultation. Consumers may be anxious that their views will not be taken seriously, that they will look foolish or that they won’t understand what’s being talked about. Staff and organisations might be anxious that their work will be criticised, that there will be unrealistic demands to change services or that their role and authority might be undermined (Fletcher & Bradburn, 2001). For consultation to work there needs to be commitment from the organisation to plan and provide adequate resources. Developing a strategy is critical before organisations start down this path. The UK Audit Commission (2003) believe developing a strategy will help organisations to define exactly what the purpose of the consultation is, what they want to achieve, help them identify the relevant stakeholders and assess what level of engagement to undertake. Consultation is an important part of designing, delivering and managing effective health and social services. There are many different ways of engaging consumers and finding the right way for each organisation takes planning, commitment, time and energy.