Bringing young people’s health to the (virtual) table

How we designed a youth listening event with PHE and NHS Chief Nurses – a case study.

Sonia and Charli take you step by step through the process of co-creating an event for young people to share their perspectives with decision makers. 

What was the context?

Throughout the pandemic, young people have been fighting to get their voices heard. Children and young people, with the help of a variety of organisations, however have been trying to ensure that their voices are at the heart of the post-pandemic response. As young health ambassadors, it has been vital that we have had a seat at the table, or at least a square on the Microsoft Teams meeting to enable our experiences of the pandemic to be listened to. 

That is why, with the support of NHS England and Improvement, Public Health England and the #iwill campaign, we organised a round table to discuss youth social action in health, as well as the issues we felt were most pressing in young people’s health. 

Most of our group have some experience of holding roundtables for young people and decision makers but this round table allowed young people to have their voices heard by the Chief Nursing Officers of both NHS England and Improvement and Public Health England.

Ruth May and Professor Viv Bennett have been actively supporting nurses throughout the pandemic, and have also been very involved in ensuring youth voice is heard within their work. Viv and Ruth both sit on the Children and Young People’s (CYP) Transformation Board.

They are great advocates for us to speak to and we were really excited that they were taking the time to listen to our experiences. As well as Ruth and Viv, a variety of other healthcare representatives such as the NHS Director for Planning joined the roundtable too. 

Today, it’s hard to have any discussion about health without placing it in the context of Covid-19, so the roundtable delved into celebrating youth social action within the health and social care sector throughout the pandemic, and more specifically, what further social action can be completed with the support of our healthcare partner organisations. 

Where to start? Choosing the structure and themes

In order to select a variety of young health ambassadors to speak at the event, in an application to show interest in the event, we asked young people what they believed to be the most important when discussing their experience of the pandemic.  The final group of young people were aged 15-25 and included #iwill Ambassadors, NHS Youth Forum members, NHS Commitment To Carers young carers, and the youth Chair of NHS Cadets.  After collating the responses, we jumped on a Zoom call and whittled down the topics into ones that we would like to cover during the roundtable. The group felt that mental health, shielding, health inequalities and NHS careers were some of the most important issues children and young people were facing in the aftermath of Covid-19. 

As a working group, we then moved into smaller focus groups. We whittled the three themes of the listening event down to:

  • Young people – the leaders of today 
  • Social and racial inequalities in health 
  • Underlying health conditions

Each member of the team was then allocated a theme, or a job role, and we selected Sonia Beard as Chair. Following this, we drafted some expectations to ensure that all speakers and listeners were respected and heard when they were sharing their experiences. We then worked in our individual focus groups to draft presentations to cover each key area we wanted to address.

Sonia says: 

“Alongside jumping in and out of the small focus group meetings  to see how they were getting on, and offering my support as chair if they needed it, I also worked on creating the briefing pack and the very tightly scheduled agenda for Ruth and Viv to receive prior to the event. The pack included biographies of all the round table speakers, but most importantly, links and references to all of the incredible youth social action in health that had been occurring throughout the pandemic, and is still happening now!”

Planning what to say and how to say it!

During planning, we had a lot of discussions about the format of the event and the best way to keep everyone’s attention, as well as how best to interact with Ruth and Viv and how to give everyone a good amount of time to speak. With Sonia chairing, we decided to allow time for each individual to speak and then having reflections before moving on to the next section so a good amount of attention was given to each topic. 

We had a lot of zoom calls both with the wider group and in our smaller groups, working with Sonia as the chair, members of the #iwill team, Public Health England, the CYP Transformation team in NHS England and Improvement and others, to ensure we could share everything we wanted to within the limited time we had. 

After finalising the agenda and timings of the event, as well as ensuring that each speaker was confident in sharing their thoughts, the event felt as though it was ready to go!  All of this planning was completed within a very tight deadline of a week or so, and everyone who worked on planning the event did an incredible job! 

Reflections from #iwill Ambassador Charli:

“Emma and I led the section on underlying health conditions and we also worked closely with Christopher and Jessica. We wanted to express how disabled young people or those with long-term health problems have been affected throughout the pandemic, as many of us have been shielding or have had our healthcare significantly impacted. Topics we spoke about included returning to school and university, telephone and online appointments and young carers. 

During the event, it felt really empowering to be listened to by Ruth and Viv, knowing that they have such an impact on the NHS. I was nervous that the event could seem performative, but throughout the event they asked questions and made their own reflections on what we were saying, as well as communicating to us through the chat function.

It was clear to me that they were truly valuing listening to our perspectives, which is really important when speaking about things that are so personal or that we are so passionate about. I also think it was so important to have a chair to not only keep us running on time but also to make sure everyone got their time to speak or answer the questions given to us by Ruth, Viv and other staff from the NHS who had joined us.”

Reflections from Sonia, NHS Youth Forum member and Chair of the event:

“I had never chaired an event before, the odd NHS Youth Forum meeting maybe, so when I put myself forward to chair this roundtable I must admit I was very nervous, but I wanted to be brave! But I knew Ruth and Viv would be great representatives to co-chair with during this event and I wanted to make sure that all the incredible young people who helped facilitate this event got their voices heard. 

After being told I was chair, it was my role to help draft the agenda and plan the timings of the event (down to the minute!) With the event only being an hour, and with there being so much that could potentially be shared, it was my role to ensure that everyone got their chance to speak. 

I drafted my opening statement which placed the event within the context of Covid-19, and reminded listeners and speakers of the variety of youth social action campaigns and projects which have been continuing to achieve great things throughout the pandemic. 

As chair, I wanted to create a space where the other young people on the call could share, discuss and celebrate the value of their work and its heightened relevance in the context of Covid-19 response and recovery. 

Covid has highlighted aspects of our healthcare service that we know need improving, and as youth volunteers we wanted to share our thoughts and ensure that in the future, children and young people can play an active role in this improvement by assisting people like the Chief Nurses to achieve that. 

I supported the event throughout by moving throughout the topics and ensuring all young people knew when it was their turn to speak and had the time to do so. I also ensured that Ruth and Viv were able to engage in meaningful discussion with the advocates on the call – and they did this with so much respect and interest in our work, it was really nice to see. 

Throughout the roundtable, as young people, we had been asking Ruth and Viv a lot of questions. We, therefore, thought it best to keep some time to offer the guests an opportunity to ask questions to us too. This created some really in-depth and exciting discussions that I hope can be supported into the future by enabling young people to continue being at the heart of healthcare discussions and decisions. 

Following the event, we made some really exciting actions that we are working on at the moment that we hope will continue to place children and young people’s voices as paramount within healthcare discussions, in post-pandemic recovery, and always. “

Keen to hear more?