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Carer Consultant Program

Northern NSW Local Health District
Project Added:
8 July 2015
Last updated:
22 July 2015

Carer Consultant Program


Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) developed a new model of consultation that electronically connects health service managers with carers in the community.

NNSWLHD Carer Consultant Model

Carer Consultant Model


The Carer Consultant Program (CCP) aims to provide health service managers and carers with a convenient method of facilitating high-quality and considered input into health services and systems.


Consumer benefits

  • Places the carer at the centre of decision making on issues that affect their role in the community and the people they care for.
  • Provides a convenient and cost-neutral opportunity to participate.
  • Improves the patient and carer experience and builds confidence in the organisation.

Organisational benefits

  • Provides a flexible, convenient and cost-neutral way for managers to obtain high-quality consumer feedback.
  • Facilitates consultation with particular cohorts of carers, for input on specific services.
  • Facilitates input on both corporate and clinical matters.

Project status

Project dates: May 2013 - May 2014

Project status: Sustained - the project has been implemented and is sustained in standard business.


Family, friends and carers of patients often develop a working knowledge of health systems and services during the patient’s healthcare journey. This knowledge can help health service managers improve the quality of services. However, conventional methods of community consultation, such as workshops, forums and participation on committees, present significant participation challenges for the carer and resource challenges for the manager.

Attendance at face-to-face meetings is difficult for the majority of carers, due to the cost involved and the unpredictable and episodic nature of the caring role. Other barriers include the need for travel, restricted availability, required reading to prepare for the consultation and arranging respite care.

NNSWLHD required an alternative method of consultation that was more convenient and allowed a greater number of people to participate in the review of everyday business activities. Preliminary discussions with carers and managers found that an exchange of information using email could alleviate many of the challenges experienced with conventional methods of consultation. It was proposed that a digital model would facilitate greater outcomes for managers and carers on a broader range of issues.


  • An Expression of Interest (EOI) was placed in community newsletters across NNSWLHD, to find people who would be willing to implement key components of the Carers Act.
  • Preliminary discussions with 18 respondents identified challenges for carers with the existing approach to consultation. Challenges included transport, organising respite care, prioritising time and cost. Understanding organisational nuances, health literacy and the pace of meetings were also significant barriers to participation.
  • NNSWLHD facility managers expressed a need for a more convenient and meaningful way to consult with patients and carers on a broad range of issues that reflect key elements of the National Quality and Safety Health Service Standard 2 and NSW Carers Charter.
  • An extensive literature review was undertaken to research alternative methods of community consultation formats. No suitable model of consultation was found.
  • Based on feedback from the community participants and NNSWLHD managers, email was selected as the preferred method of community consultation.
  • The NNSWLHD Carers Program was identified as the ideal service to act as a central point of coordination and translation.
  • The new model was developed by the Carers Program and involved recruiting, training and providing ongoing support for a group of Carer Consultants. Carer Consultants are community members who regularly interact with health services and have experience caring for a family member or friend.
  • When a manager requires consumer input on a service development activity, the coordinator emails a consultancy request to the Carer Consultants. The consultants are given a two-week timeframe to review the request and forward their feedback. The coordinator collates the responses and forwards them in a feedback brief to the manager. After 90 days, the coordinator receives actions from the manager based on the consultants’ feedback. This information is forwarded to the consultants so that they can see how their input has translated into action.
  • Once the NNSWLHD Board endorsed the CCP for implementation, it was promoted internally in newsletters and via presentations to managers at Safety and Quality meetings, Health Service Group Executive Committee meetings and Hospital Executive meetings. A Manager’s User Guide was developed and distributed.
  • External promotion of the CCP included presentations at inter-agency and community group meetings. Additional EOIs were placed in community newsletters to recruit more Carer Consultants.
  • Respondents to the EOIs were interviewed and provided with an information package to guide them in their role. An online discussion group was set up on HSNet for those that wished to workshop ideas.


More than 30 Carer Consultants provided feedback that contributed to 162 formal recommendations to managers, in response to 20 consultancy requests.  As of April 2015, 107 were implemented and 45 were pending or partially implemented.

Recommendations were provided on a range of topics and directly led to improvements in:

  • clinical policies
  • procedures and guidelines
  • patient and carer information
  • patient surveys
  • patient assessment tools
  • hospital visiting hours
  • corporate documents.

The recommendations also led to the introduction of carer identification tags, signage and flexible arrangements to include carers as a part of the care team. Due to a high level of demand, new guidelines were developed to help managers when developing patient information publications.

Six months after implementation, eight managers and 15 consultants participated in an evaluation via SurveyMonkey. All managers indicated that they thought the CCP had achieved its goal of providing managers with access to experienced carers who can help them make decisions on issues that impact carers and the people they care for.

Managers rated the quality of the consultants’ feedback at 9/10. Carer Consultants scored the CCP at 8/10, as a convenient way to receive and consider information and to provide feedback. The consultants rated the actions taken by managers in response to their feedback at 8/10. Both managers and consultants gave the CCP an overall satisfaction rating of 9/10.

This project was entered in the 2013 NNSWLHD Quality Awards. 

Lessons learnt 

  • There was initial concern from peak consumer bodies that the new model might replace the opportunity for carers to be involved in face-to-face consultations. To address this, a statement was included to clarify that it would be used to complement and not replace face-to-face consultation, where it was considered best practice.
  • Consultants are unpaid community volunteers. Their key motivator is the knowledge that their work will make a difference. Feedback on progress against their recommendations is key to the ongoing success of the program. The model presents a viable option for consumer consultation in a broad range of situations where there are barriers to participation.



Ken LeeCoordinator Strategic Programs, Disability and Carers
Northern NSW Local Health District
Phone: 02 6639 8276 or 0400 882 837

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