As part of our #PeerSupportMeans blog series, Rebecca Wilkins, The Hepatitis C Trust Peer Researcher, interviews Faith Cullen of Faithfully Consulting about her work with The Hepatitis C Trust Peer Programme and the elimination programme.
Could you briefly describe your role and organisation?
I am a Hep C Service Development Manager and I have worked for and with NHS England on the hep C elimination programme for the past eight years. I work as a private consultant. I had previously worked for one of the three big pharma companies but then I started working for myself and directly for the NHS England Project. I work across three Operational Delivery Networks (ODNs), the Midlands, Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham.
What are the objectives of your work?
I help ODNs standardise their services within various organisations under their jurisdiction and work with the drug and alcohol services, prisons, homeless outreach, anyone and everyone really. I help organisations streamline and develop their hep C services in line with what the ODNs and NHS England are trying to achieve. I find out and develop how we can make testing and treatment better and more accessible for patients. When I come across practice that works really well I make sure that the best practice is shared throughout the network. And if we come across barriers and issues, again, I work with the ODN to try and remove those quickly, so that patients get access as quickly and easily as possible. For example, traditionally wet blood tests were needed to diagnose and treat hepatitis C but it was recognised that this was difficult for many of our patients who were either needle-phobic, had difficulty in drawing blood, or were unwilling to have a blood test. When there was no longer a need for wet blood test and they were replaced by a simple finger prick test, it was my job to get that message out to all drug and alcohol services and prisons who were testing in that ODN area.
And how do you work with The Hepatitis C Trust?
A big part of my role is making sure that people have access to testing and treatment really easily, how they want it and how they feel most comfortable getting it. So it just goes hand in hand that I work with The Hep C Trust because what I do is very patient centred and, of course, The Hep C Trust is the patient voice, so we’ve always had a real affinity to work closely together. I was actually involved in one of the first groups of The Hep C Trust Peer programme that was funded about eight years ago. I just knew it was going to be a winner.
The peers are the professional voice that can speak on behalf of our patients and help us to understand better how to provide health care and engage patients.
What do you think peer models bring to your work?
Oh, wow. They bring so much. It’s their experience. I really believe that experience is as good, if not better in this case, than a degree in something. To have lived experience in something, when everybody else who’s working in that area doesn’t, brings a fresh set of eyes, that knowledge, and insight into how people want to access services. What are people going to feel comfortable with? Where are the people that are excluded? A lot of doctors and nurses that I work with, the professionals in healthcare, including myself, we don’t know where to find these people. And then I speak to The Hep C Trust and they say ‘we know where they are!’ So it works hand in hand with making people feel comfortable and willing to join and be part of something that is truly exciting and wonderful for patients. The Hep C Trust peer programme is really the bridge that pulls that all together.
Where would you like to see the peer work go in the future?
In my business, and in healthcare, we are trying to be as patient-centred as we can and always think about what is best for our patients and how do patients want to receive and engage with healthcare. We have proven with the Peer Programme that it doesn’t have to be an ‘us and them’ situation where Healthcare is on one side and patients are on the other and never the twain shall meet. We want to move towards a mix where we can get everybody involved, hear everybody’s voices. The peers are the professional voice that can speak on behalf of our patients and help us to understand better how to provide health care and engage patients. And that just doesn’t apply to hep C. Health care is more and more focused on trying to reach people who are in deprived areas and less likely to engage for a range of conditions. We need to bring those people in and make it comfortable and accessible for them. So I just see the peer programme moving on to wider health conditions, like liver health and cancer. We have people in our communities who struggle to access healthcare about those issues, so I can’t see why we wouldn’t expand it more and more. I’m sure when people recognise that this is a good idea they will be on board.
This interview was conducted by Rebecca Wilkins,
one of our peer researchers.