This week EQUIP hosted the first of a series of knowledge exchange events for general practice, focusing on sharing learning on running virtual PPGs.

Patient participation groups (PPGs) are not only contractual requirement for GP practices; they are an opportunity for patients to become more involved and engaged by practices to improve healthcare services they receive. Many practices have felt that their PPGs need a fresh approach, and want to engage a more diverse range of patients. Covid-19 presents an opportunity to test new ways of engaging patients and practices – a virtual PPG.

The move to virtual engagement is not without challenges. This knowledge exchange aimed to address these challenges and offer support to GPs and practice managers, bringing in learning from teams who have begun testing online engagement with the local population.

The session included a presentation from Healthwatch about digital exclusion in Tower Hamlets, showing which groups are experiencing higher and lower levels of digital inclusion and access.

Brayford and City Wellbeing practice shared a case study of their virtual patient engagement event which had over 60 people attending, and Penryhn Surgery shared a case study of using a QI approach to improve patient participation.  There are some great examples of virtual PPGs working well in practice, and some top tips and challenges which have become clear.

Three key themes emerged in the workshop:

Engaging the population 

  • PPGs have often struggled with participation and engagement, virtual PPGs are an opportunity to engage with patients in a different way.
  • Presentations from Laura Ross and Anna Smith demonstrated some wins for increasing attendance:
    • Understanding the local population and their needs is key i.e. translators at the meeting, and translated digital communication and marketing material.
    • Text reminders before the event worked well to increase participation – both in English and Bengali.
    • Arranging a couple of different meeting times both during the day, and after school / work hours.
    • Engaging local schools and colleges to help with marketing/organising can help engage a wider group.
  • Dianne Barham from Healthwatch highlighted members of the population that are more likely to be digitally excluded and the importance of finding ways to engage these groups. Those at higher risk of digital exclusion are:
    • More likely to be of Black ethnicities.
    • More likely to be older.
    • More likely to be in poor health or disabled.
    • Less likely to be working or financially secure.


  • Theming meetings
  • The shared case studies suggested that having themed meetings increased patient engagement from those that might not usually participate (i.e. COVID-19 vaccination, practice mergers).
  • It is important to allow patients to set the agenda, but also to provide a space for people to share their thoughts, air complaints, and give feedback outside of the set agenda.
  • Keeping PPGs open, rather than restricting them to a group who have expressed an interest. Some people may just want to ‘drop in’ occasionally, rather than become regular members.


  • Support

We asked attendees what kind of support they would find most useful, and they suggested

  • Frameworks of best practice for setting up PPGs would be helpful.
  • Funding support for PPGs could help practice managers organise PPGs.
  • Possible support to test out creating cross Network PPGs.

Virtual PPGs offer an opportunity to increase participation and engage with a wider group of patients; 86% of those attending the session said they would like to have a mix of virtual and face-to-face PPGs in the future. Sharing knowledge and tips can empower practices to deliver virtual PPGs and create more inclusive and engaged patient participation.