Nathan Duff is a project officer at Catalyst, the voluntary development agency supporting the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector in Stockton-on-Tees.

He has worked with local communities for more than five years, recently managing multi-agency projects that recognise the value of community assets and engagement.

He applied for the Developing Patient/Citizen Leaders Programme, which aims to accelerate patient and citizen involvement in service improvement initiatives and strategic planning across health and care organisations.

“I thought this programme would be an excellent opportunity for me to improve health services and make a bigger difference to the lives of local people,” explains Nathan. “I wanted to gain examples of best practice in public engagement, grow my network, and practically improve my skills and knowledge.”

Nathan already worked on a Community Health Ambassadors project alongside local CCGs/NECs to involve volunteers, organisations and patients with transparent public engagement, co-design and consultation during strategic service reviews.

“I wanted to make the most of this opportunity and knew that my understanding of NHS systems could be improved,” says Nathan.

“It was perfectly timed so I made sure to book onto the earliest possible cohort. I got up to speed with the NHS Five Year Forward View for context on how current services are changing, and went along with an open mind, eager to learn from my peers doing similar roles in different ways.”

Nathan found it rewarding to work with a diverse, passionate mix of people who came together to make things better in their own way, both inside and outside the NHS.

“I came away feeling more confident about my role as a patient leader and how important it is to not point the finger if things aren’t perfect,” explains Nathan. “We all care about people and are in this for the right reasons. Ultimately, we have to understand each other’s challenges to make sure patients have the best experience.”

Upon completing the programme, Nathan found his learning around the GROW coaching model and the Gunning principles for public engagement helpful in practically improving his relationships with community health ambassadors. It also increased his understanding of how to best influence the planning and delivery of health services.

“The programme was highly personal and I reflected about my own communication and behaviour styles. This made me more mindful of the way I work, and I’ve shared some helpful learning and resources with colleagues,” he says.

Nathan has already recommended the programme to other people who are passionate about improving NHS services. He states, “The programme provides everything needed to navigate our complex and ever-changing health systems, and is delivered in a comforting, supportive and optimistic way.”

Moving forward, Nathan is committed to advocating the strengths of community assets in the VCSE sector. This includes social prescribing and valuing the patient’s voice in decision making processes – particularly in the context of reduced resources, increased demand and ongoing political influences.

“I believe that the current climate provides an exciting opportunity to positively influence the delivery of health and wellbeing services,” he concludes. “I hope to continue learning how community development, engagement and empowerment can support this for everyone’s best interests.”

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