Waikato District Health Board is the only DHB in New Zealand to hold regular community health forums (CHFs) across its district – but it is certainly not resting on its laurels.
An online public survey, interviews, focus groups, research and observation of the forums in action were all part of an independent evaluation recently to check how effectively the forums were engaging with communities and what could be improved.
The outcome of the evaluation included first and foremost to keep the community health forums.
The CHFs were started in 2001 and are held three times a year in six “communities of interest” in the district: Hamilton and surrounds, Thames/Coromandel/Hauraki, Matamata/Piako, Waitomo/Otorohanga, South Waikato, and Ruapehu, and more recently North Waikato.
They provide a two-way flow of information between Waikato DHB and the communities it serves.
Each CHF is a public meeting with a local person nominated as the chair. The aim is to find out about what is happening in health that might affect that community and to bring ideas, information and issues from that community to the attention of the DHB.
The evaluation report concludes that “overall the CHFs are an effective face-to-face engagement mechanism that keeps communities informed and included in Waikato DHB activities and issues.” However, it identified some ways the forums could be more effective in reaching the diverse communities in the Waikato.
The evaluation was done by postgraduate students from the Department of Psychology at the University of Waikato, and the report and recommendations were presented to the Waikato DHB Board at its November 2015 meeting.
Waikato DHB strategic planner Paul Keesing describes the CHFs as one of many ways the district health board consults with its communities, but an important one.
This was confirmed by the evaluation which describes CHFs as fulfilling “an important function in Waikato DHB local communities” and are “well organised” with a “cooperative and friendly atmosphere”.
Keesing says that over the years technology has changed and expectations about community engagement have changed. “It’s timely to see how the forums can evolve to be even more effective for both us and the communities.”
Nine recommendations were accepted by the board and the next step is to pull those into an implementation plan. In some instances work is already underway.