Engaging with Decision Makers

Writing a letter

This page will help you work out who the most relevant person to contact is. The boxes below explain how this differs across the UK, and give specific advice about contacting politicians and local NHS leaders.

Identify the problem

What do you want them to help you with? What would you like to happen as a result? Is this something that they will be able to help you with?

Give a key ‘headline’ and outline the situation, including any proposed changes, or any important legislation or new initiatives that are relevant to why you are writing.

Identify the goal

Ensuring that those making the decisions are aware of how this change would affect local people and users of a service is an important first step. Identify what you want your end goal to be, and then identify the steps that will help you reach this goal.

Outline the issue in more detail, including how the current situation or any changes will affect you and those close to you, and if possible, mention how many other people this will affect.

Discuss what you would like to happen and what you would like them to do. There is more information below about what decision makers can do for you.

Show the wider support for your proposals

This will help you build a broader picture of the challenges, as well as strengthening your voice and showing this issue affects many people. You could get support from other organisations and individuals affected – encourage them to write too.

Do your research

Our glossary of terms might be useful for navigating some of the jargon and acronyms. The person you are writing to might have no prior knowledge about the issue, or even about eating disorders, so try to give them a good overview so that they can understand the problem. If your concerns are about a particular service, it may help to speak to them first about how the system works and where the decisions are made, to help understand this better.

Top tips

Ask for an appointment to discuss the issue, as this can really help to bring the reality of the situation to life. Be sure to include your contact address, telephone number and email address. There is more advice about preparing for a meeting on the next tab.

Keep it concise – try for a maximum of one side of A4.

Send your letter via post or email. You can always send again via email when following up.

After you have sent your letter

It can take time to receive a response, so try to be patient. If you have not heard within a few weeks, you might want to give them a telephone call to follow up the enquiry. Remember, if you would like any help you can contact the campaigns team.

Preparing for a meeting

Meeting face-to-face allows you to bring the issue to life. This might be the first time they’ll have heard from someone who has experienced an eating disorder, and they may even have some misconceptions. This contact, and hearing your experiences, will help them to understand eating disorders on a more personal level. It also helps to show your passion about making change, which can be very persuasive.

Know the issue

It’s good to go into the meeting with a strong understanding of local issues and how these fit into the national picture. For example, knowing how the services in your area are performing against waiting times targets can be helpful if you’re discussing how early access to treatment needs to be improved in your area. The person you are meeting may want to probe further, and could ask more difficult questions. If you don’t know the answer or how to respond, don’t worry – you are not expected to be a policy expert, and can let them know that you will get back to them if there’s something you’re not sure about. Beat can help you prepare and gather information in advance and can help you answer questions after the meeting. Just get in touch with the team by emailing us.

Agenda

Make a clear plan of what you want to cover in the meeting and how you want to structure your time. Try to allow time for discussion and questions. An appointment usually lasts around 10 – 15 minutes, but you can clarify how long it will last when you arrange the meeting so that you can plan accordingly. Having this agenda and any information you wish to refer to during the meeting printed for yourself is a good idea – this can be especially helpful for keeping you on point and if your mind goes blank.

  • The beginning – Introduce yourself and explain why you have arranged the meeting. Thank them for meeting with you, and for any supportive action they have taken on this issue before.
  • The middle – Try to stick to your planned agenda, keeping your points clear and concise to ensure you get time for discussion and questions. It can be useful to have some facts and statistics, but try not to rely on them completely, as these can be impersonal. They may deal with facts and statistics a lot in their role, so it will be important to share your story, saying what matters to you and why, to bring the issue to life. The person you are meeting might have a different view to you, so it’s important to get your views across while remaining calm and listening to what they have to say. If they have any tricky questions, don’t worry if you can’t answer. You can only speak about your own experiences. Tell them you will find out the answer and send them further information. This is also a great excuse to follow up and build a relationship with them or the staff in their office.
  • The end – Explain what can be done to improve the situation, and ask them to take action. This could be to contact your local health commissioners to discuss services in your area, writing to the relevant Government Minister to bring policy-related matters to their attention, speaking at an event, or raising the issue in the media. Try to be clear in your requests about what you would like them to do to help. It can be really helpful to prepare a handout with your key points, so that you can leave this at the end of the meeting. They might not know a lot about eating disorders, so if you can bring the issue to life and then leave them with further information that is a great start. This handout can be a good place to include some relevant facts and statistics. Beat can provide you with some key information about eating disorders and your local area to help with this. Just get in touch with the team by emailing us.

Agree roles

If you are attending the meeting with another person, discuss who will say what, and how you can support each other best during the meeting. It is also courteous to let the person you are meeting know who will be attending with you.

Practice

Spend some time going through what you plan to say. This will help you to feel more confident when speaking during the meeting.

Top tips

  • Politicians and health service leaders have packed diaries, so don’t stand them up and make sure you are on time.
  • Make sure you know where you need to go, how to get there and how long your travel will take. Try to allow yourself a little extra time before your appointment – that will reduce stress if anything goes wrong along the way.
  • Be polite. A good start could help this develop into a positive and productive relationship.
  • Secretaries, PAs and researchers are usually the first point of contact, manage diaries and sort their post. Be extra nice and they’ll make it all much easier!