Recommendation 289

Department of Health officials connecting to the NHS

Department of Health officials need to connect more to the NHS by visits, and most importantly by personal contact with those who have suffered poor experiences. The Department of Health could also be assisted in its work by involving patient/service user representatives through some form of consultative forum within the Department.

A major programme has been established within the Department of Health to ensure that staff throughout the organisation are given the opportunity to experience the realities of life in front-line organisations. The programme has begun, with the most senior civil servants in the Department of Health spending time with a wide range of health and care organisations. The early evidence is that the programme is having a profound and positive effect on those participating in it, and has provided them with invaluable insights into the realities of care that they are using to inform their work in the Department of Health.


Within the first year of the Connecting programme, the Department of Health has arranged over 2,000 connecting days, with Senior Civil Service and policy makers spending time shadowing staff and talking to patients and service users in acute care, GP surgeries, social care, community services and the voluntary sector. Over 500 Department of Health staff have taken part in the programme so far, with a number of connecting partners also being invited back into the Department, to learn about policy making and the parliamentary process.

A recent survey of Department of Health staff who had connected revealed over 85% had a better understanding of the health and care system as a result, and almost two thirds had increased their number of useful contacts outside the department. 86% of the health and care partners the Department of Health surveyed believe the Connecting programme is a good opportunity for civil servants to see what it’s really like for patients and those using services.

After only one year, Connecting is beginning to help shape the way business is done in the Department. A quarter of those asked reported that connecting had already changed the way they worked, with people using their new contacts as informal sounding boards, developing better dialogue with partners, and having a greater focus on patient experience and, sometimes, unintended consequences of policies.