Patient advisors to give input into health services

Media release: Health Consumer Advisory Service

Consumers are the heart of our health system and increasingly sought out by health providers to help improve patient services. 

To make it easy to find consumers willing and able to give that valuable input is the purpose of an advisory service established by the Health Navigator Charitable Trust and the Ministry of Health.

The Health Consumer Advisory Service was set up in February 2015 to deliver patient perspectives and experiences to health providers.

Health Navigator Charitable Trust Clinical Director, Dr Janine Bycroft, says the fact the service is up and running is proof the Government sees value in including health consumers in the process of designing and maintaining patient services.

“It’s vital that consumers are part of the team to create an effective health system,” she says. “Consumers can help organisations create more effective, equitable and positive services for their patients. It’s about meeting people’s needs and not just medical needs – it’s wider than that.”

From back left: Gary Sutcliffe, Mary Campbell, Tama Tua, Marj Allan, Tasi Ahio, Martine Abel-Williamson, Karen Browne.

Front row: Raewyn Bhana, Barbara Broome, Kylie Head and Weston (Martine’s guide dog) (Absent: Kevin Murray).

Service available now for health groups

After a year of successful projects using the service, the Trust is now promoting it to the wider health sector. “You’ll be amazed by the difference consumers can make,” Dr Bycroft says.

The service is keen to hear from any health group that wants to design and run a patient-centred service. The process of recruiting advisors is simple, and their practical suggestions based on their experiences were invaluable, according to Ministry of Health National Programme Manager Cardiovascular Disease/Diabetes and Long Term Conditions, Karen Evison. 

Successful projects from patient input 

Ms Evison has used the Health Consumer Advisory Service on six projects, which included developing a retinal screening service and changing CV risk assessment guidelines. 

“For the retinal project, we had two advisors who explained they needed more warnings about some of the procedures so they could arrange for extra help and support and then plan properly.

“The advisors catch a lot of these types of issues. Those details can get overlooked so easily,” Ms Evison says. “They’re part of the debate and dialogue and their opinions carry equal weight to that of the clinicians involved.”

A broad range of organisations and clinical networks have also found the service useful for re-designing their services, Dr Bycroft says. “It’s important for all organisations and health providers to pause and ask consumers what’s aspects of the service are working well and what’s not. If you could start with a clean slate, what would you do differently?” 

How the service works

Service coordinator and advisor Gary Sutcliffe says the service currently has eleven consumer representatives from around the country with a variety of different backgrounds and health experiences. “A consumer advisor will be selected to work with a group according to their patient perspective and lived experience,” he says.

Members of the group are carefully selected for their experience with one or more long-term conditions and their ability to bring a broader consumer lens. Often, they have also supported family and friends through health services. 

Careful matching of the consumer with the organisation ensures that high quality, relevant consumer input is provided. Each consumer is trained and mentored throughout the process.

“Where necessary, we teach them about the language of studies and data, and help with how to get the most out of meetings. That is invaluable –  it can be daunting otherwise”

How to use the service

To find out how you could be including consumer advisors in your service planning or service review, contact:

For health providers:

Contact Gary Sutcliffe at:

For media:

To get more information or to arrange an interview contact Charmaine Vaughan or 0274-121-212

About Health Navigator

Health Navigator NZ is a non-profit community initiative combining the efforts of a wide range of partner and supporter organisations. One of the many services the trust provides is the Health Navigator website. The website provides one place for New Zealanders to find reliable health information and self care resources. It focuses on promoting clear, consistent messages that enable users to get the information they need at the time they need it. Other products and services the trust provides include the Long-Term Conditions Clinical Network, newsletters, practitioner workshops, app reviews and a diabetes video series.