Being a leader of change – How youth voice can amplify and influence decision making by Aishah Farooq

Today marks International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate the achievements, accomplishments, and journeys of every women across all professions. Having your voice heard, as a young person, can be a challenging and a despairing situation to be in – initially my opinions often felt like white noise, non-existent and tokenistic. However, it was such experiences that motivated and fuelled my passion for leading in roles which empowered, encouraged, and promoted other young people to project their voices and their views within the NHS.

Generally, most hospitals have a patient and public sounding group, where discussions occur around how healthcare services can improve, but importantly Trusts are now beginning to create hospital Youth Forums specifically designed for young people, aged 11-25 years old, to share their experiences and views on any aspect of hospital care. This could be anything from the ward environment to food provisions, but it’s important to recognise whether young people’s views are being communicated to the decision makers, the change makers – the Trust board? Young person representation within the Trust’s senior management team is vital and I am privileged to represent University Hospitals Bristol and Weston Trust’s (UHBW) Youth Forum, as a Governor at Trust board level. Throughout my time, I’ve had the opportunity to directly impact decisions affecting all patients (including adults) and most importantly young people, whether that be sitting on the Trusts’ chair recruitment panel or providing the board with a Youth Forum update on concerns arising during forum sessions. Throughout the activities I’ve been involved with at Board level, I’ve ensured that youth voice is loud and heard clearly, and when required, our thoughts and ideas are reflected in the changes to services, strategy, and policy. I believe that leading in the Governor role has given me the ability to promote active change and improve healthcare for young people.

The involvement of young people across healthcare can become a tick-box exercise and our involvement can become purely tokenistic. Every young person should have the right to contribute towards shaping services that they, their friends or family, may access. Fortunately, being a lay member on the NICE guideline for Babies, Children and Young People’s Experiences of Healthcare provided me with a platform for influencing healthcare services, by creating recommendations for healthcare professionals treating babies, children, and young people within any healthcare setting. By using my lived experience of accessing healthcare services and the collated views from myself and my peers at the UHBW’s Youth Forum, I was able to lead on specific review questions from the guideline, ensuring that recommendations were solely curated and centred around the baby, child, and young person. A memorable and significant recommendation that stemmed from a review question I led on, was ensuring the child and young person had the maximum amount of involvement in their own healthcare decisions especially where there are a choice of options. This could be choosing how they’d prefer to take their medicines (for example as a liquid or tablet), or choosing a plaster cast colour – the decision should be the child or young persons, without the transparent engagement of young people throughout the guideline, recommendations such as this could not have been formed.

A big component of empowering other young people to have their voices heard stems from leading by example. My role as a patient and public voice partner for the Asthma workstream for the Children and Young People’s Transformation Board provides a platform for my views and lived experience of accessing asthma care to directly be heard and reflected through guidance, however it has also provided me with the opportunity to inspire other young people to vocalise and share their experiences of asthma care at the Ask About Asthma conference, as part of asthma awareness week. The importance of other young people feeling empowered to share their own views and experiences is a truly rewarding feeling, as every young person has the right to vocalise, contribute towards and improve healthcare.

In my experience, as a young person my motivations, goals, and ambitions are the key drivers in my journey to leading and Influencing change. My personal passion lies in minimising health inequalities by addressing the social determinants of healthcare, such as education, income, and family. I strongly believe that these factors detrimentally impact a young person’s healthcare journey and as a result, I am supporting a project with the health inequalities sub-group within the NHS England Youth Forum this year. Our project explores how the social determinants of healthcare affect young people, but most importantly it captures the views of how young people want healthcare services to be improved to minimise the effects of the social determinants of health.

In all the opportunities I have been involved with, I’ve been able to amplify youth voice clearly through channels, which recognise the importance of young people being actively engaged in decisions related to them. I strongly believe in young people becoming future leaders and advocates of their own and their peers’ healthcare. As I am mid-way through my pharmacology undergraduate degree, I haven’t yet decided on my next steps, however in the future I can certainly say that I’ll be strongly advocating for and intensifying the voices of young people, by influencing strategy and policy to better improve healthcare outcomes.

Aishah Farooq

Aishah’s journey into advocating for the voices of children and young people began with her own experience of accessing healthcare services as a young person. This led her to joining University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHSFT’s youth forum, where she was involved in shaping how healthcare should be delivered from a young persons’ perspective and had the opportunity to accredit wards and departments with a ‘Young person friendly’ certification. Her passion for improving her local Hospital’s services encouraged her to become a Trust young Governor, where she sits on the Council of Governors and ensures youth voice is involved in every conversation.

Aishah is a member of the National NHS Youth Forum and has also used her lived experience of accessing healthcare services to contribute, as a lay member, on the NICE guideline: Babies, Children and Young People’s Experiences of Heathcare. She is currently a Patient and Public Voice Partner for the asthma workstream within the Children and Young People’s Transformation board at NHSE. She is currently in her second year studying Pharmacology at the University of Bristol.

Declaration of interests

I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: none.

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