Handing over control of the judging of award winners in a region wide competition about excellence, was a bold step, one that felt very complicated when we began. We have learned a lot by taking this action. We believe that the right decision was made and we have reaped the benefits. At times in the early days, we often heard the cry of 'how can you hand over such an important role to patients' and our response was 'how could we not'. Improving services is about improving the experience of patients, users and families, as they access National Health Service (NHS) care at times of intense crisis. In such a situation the only people who can judge what works, are the patients. We stood by this decision and are proud to have worked with a highly professional group of patients and users, who have shaped our thinking and helped us learn. What have we learned you may ask? We have learned what it really feels like to hand over control to patients - and we can report it feels good! Within this publication we will tell, with the help of the patients and award winners, the process we have gone through since 1999 and what we have learned. We hope you find it useful.