The Service Pledge is an initiative that allows hospitals to improve the care of patients by listening and learning from the patients themselves.

Wednesday 11 March 2015      Policy and campaigns blog
Patients can help change NHS cancer services

Breakthrough recruits Patient Advocates who take the feedback from breast cancer patients and help hospitals turn it into real service improvements in the NHS.

Karen, a long-term supporter of Breakthrough has been a Patient Advocate for Breakthrough’s Service Pledge programme since 2008. As part of NHS Change Day, Karen talks about her experience listening to patients’ feedback in the discussion groups and working with hospital staff to review the patient feedback and identify improvements that would really make a difference for patients.

Karen Gannon - breast cancer patient and patient advocate

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and, during the time I was having my treatment, I felt that the disease had taken over my life completely. I read almost everything ever published about breast cancer and, whilst I was very keen to join the many ranks of women making a difference, as I felt I should, I really wanted to do something to make me feel normal.  My treatment for breast cancer put me very firmly on centre stage and for a couple of years it was all about me.  I wanted it to be about someone else.

I had read about the Service Pledge and felt it was something I could do that could fit in with my work, and allow me to help other women going through what I experienced.  So I applied to be a Patient Advocate, went through the training and joined the ranks of the many other campaigners.

Helping women tell their story

I have now been involved in three Service Pledges and have really enjoyed each of them. The first one was so cathartic.  I had to listen to someone else’s story without adding my bit – a challenge in itself for me.  This was time for these ladies to talk to a stranger who would not judge, join in or give advice, but just listen.

The latest Service Pledge I was involved with had a different format to the others, which I felt made the experience even more fulfilling.  I felt much more involved in the whole process and I also thought bringing the medical staff into the discussions much earlier on in the process worked better, as the feedback was fresh and they could see our flipchart discussions.  And of course it was easier for us to remember and contextualise what the patients said.

Listen, learn and improve

I think the Service Pledge is an excellent platform for patients to talk and hospitals to listen. In my case, I knew that the horrible medical treatment was necessary and that the hospital staff are very busy, but it is an incredibly emotional time and there are little things that can be improved to make the journey easier.  It is also a very positive experience for the medical staff we feedback to. It’s an opportunity for us to give them the recognition they duly deserve.

I am very proud to be a patient advocate, and I would recommend anyone who is interested to give it a go. It will build your confidence going forward and you might surprise yourself in what you can achieve.  There is a lot of support available and you won’t be on your own.  You will meet some amazing people who are going through the same experience as you have, and you will work as part of a team helping them and their medical teams make the journey of future women with breast cancer a little easier.

Karen Gannon is a guest blogger and patient advocate for the Service Pledge

If you'd like to find out more about the Service Pledge, please contact Catherine Wood, Health Advocacy Manager on 020 7025 0082 or email