Involving NHS ‘customers’ at every step of the decision-making process can leave a legacy of true patient-centred care, says Joan Saddler. Leave a comment on on this story to contribute to a national debate on the future of NHS leadership
A recent report published by Aston Business School found what many of us would expect - that the experiences of NHS staff and patients are closely linked.
As consumers, we know that when we buy a product or service, the attitude and behaviour of staff as well as our overall experience influence how satisfied we feel.
In the NHS, where a close working relationship between clinician and patient is vital, the association between patient and staff experience is likely to be all the more important.
However, while NHS managers should pay close attention to staff experience, it is more important to pay attention to the patient. Although care delivered by the NHS has always focused on the patient, their needs have sometimes been assumed and the powerful role their views can play in improving services has often been overlooked.
This does not mean we have not been collecting information on “experience”.
For years, feedback has been collected via face to face interactions, surveys, focus groups, public consultations and a host of other mechanisms.
However, the NHS has only recently started to understand the need to be smarter about how we use this invaluable information. Do we always understand what matters to patients? If the answer is yes, do we always act upon this information?
In recent years, some critical measures have been introduced to help reshape the relationship between patients and services. The NHS constitution clarifies what patients should expect from the NHS. Hospitals should already be using real time feedback from patients to inform improvements and, from April, their income will be directly linked to patient satisfaction.
There have been examples of innovation. For example, some trusts use electronic surveys on wards to get instant feedback on issues such as privacy and staff attitude.
This is just one example of the drive to give patients more control and a greater say over care, and for those providing services to understand what matters to patients
and to use this insight to drive up quality.
‘Do we always understand what matters to patients? If the answer is yes, do we always act upon this?’
Across England there are managers who, by changing the way they work to better understand both patients and staff, are finding new ways to improve their services
and people’s experiences of them.
However, we need to do more - and faster. In difficult economic times, the NHS will have to make even more of its resources. We must find new ways to drive
up both productivity and quality. We will have to make what will be often difficult decisions about funding priorities. None of this can be achieved effectively without
understanding what matters to patients.
The Department of Health has launched an initiative to help services make better use of patient experience information by putting systems in place to gather, interpret and act upon data. We are also helping to spread the word, enabling managers to learn from colleagues who are leading the way.
However, this will not be enough by itself. Last year, the DH, in partnership with patients, NHS staff and the voluntary sector, produced Putting People at the Heart of Care, a vision for patient experience and engagement in health. It makes it clear that the NHS must learn to take a more comprehensive approach to engaging patients in decisions.
The patient, our customer, should drive the design and delivery of care.
For this to happen, all NHS staff - from the boardroom to the front line - need to engage patients and the public every day in making decisions. Only then will we make patients’ experiences really count.
Joan Saddler is the director of patient and public affairs, Department of Health
The Department of Health and the National Leadership council want your views on how the NHS should be managed. You can contribute to the debate by posting a comment below