The benefits of the Experts Patients Programme could be quietly spectacular

In last week’s column, I began to talk about the Expert Patients Programme, an NHS initiative to educate and empower people with long-term health problems.

There are about 15 million people in this country with one – or multiple – long-term medical conditions, who account for 50 per cent of GP consultations and 75 per cent of hospital admissions. The latest estimate of the rising cost of managing these conditions is 40 per cent in the next 20 years. If they can be managed by a range of preventive measures, and treatment in the community, not only will this reduce pressure on both our community and acute services, but it could also lead to a better quality of life for many of those 15 million – an ideal solution?

The Expert Patients Programme runs six-week courses, using volunteer tutors who themselves have long-term conditions. Among other things, participants learn self-management techniques, including pain management. They practise techniques to deal with feelings of frustration and depression, as well as means of monitoring their own health. They also discuss ways to communicate effectively with health professionals.

People who had started as participants and moved on to become volunteer tutors reveal some unexpected benefits. A course organiser in our area, who gave up nursing 20 years ago as her multiple sclerosis progressed, has found a way to use her considerable experience and skills to help change people’s lives. She says she’s probably as busy now as when she was nursing. Another volunteer tutor, who needed an oxygen cylinder to breathe, now co-ordinates a self-help group for people with breathing difficulties. An ex-policewoman with MS has found her self-confidence again, allowing her to take a more active part in her community.

People who have completed the courses have stayed in touch with each other and their tutors and formed their own self-sustaining support groups. The Expert Patients Programme may not be the only solution, but its benefits could be quietly spectacular.


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