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NHS trusts to use 'mystery shoppers' to check on quality


A mental health trust in London is to use ‘mystery shoppers’ to check on the performance of nurses and other staff, Nursing Times has learnt.

Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust plans to use patients to covertly investigate how its wards, sites and staff are performing in the same way that the retail and hospitality industries use mystery shoppers to measure customer service.

According to the trust’s chief executive Claire Murdoch, herself a qualified mental health nurse, the idea of introducing ‘mystery shoppers’ on wards was intended to bring a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ to the day-to-day working of the organisation. 

They would be asked to assess whether the various parts of the trust were welcoming, whether there was a positive attitude among staff, whether the right information was being provided to service users and carers and whether the wards were clean.

‘This is about trying to help staff. It is not about catching people out,’ she said.

Ms Murdoch told Nursing Times that those chosen to become mystery shoppers would be drawn from the trust’s patient and service user groups, and governors. The scheme is due to start in September.

However, she also said she was considering using trust staff as mystery shoppers to assess sites different from those they worked on.

‘We would have to make sure that people were trained to do this, to understand what is good and bad practice, what to feed back instantly and what to feed back to the board,’ she added.

Nursing Times also learnt last week that a similar scheme has just started in South Staffordshire, though this is currently confined to using patients in this role. South Staffordshire PCT is aiming to recruit ‘mystery shoppers’ to feed back their views and opinions on the treatment they have received in local hospitals.

Patients living anywhere in the South Staffordshire PCT area who are about to be admitted to hospital or attend as outpatients can participate.

They will be able to phone a mystery shopper hotline to register their interest and will then be asked to fill in a questionnaire about the different stages of their treatment.  

Yvonne Sawbridge, director of quality and performance at South Staffordshire PCT, said the trust was working on the project with Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

‘We all regard patient feedback as an essential method of ensuring that the quality of care is of a high standard and that patients have a positive experience and are satisfied with the outcome of their treatment,’ she said.

‘We believe that this programme, which will provide virtually “real-time” feedback, will help us to develop services that are responsive to the needs of patients and are of an even higher standard,’ she added.

Such schemes are in line with one of the central aims of the NHS Next Stage Review, which called for an improvement in ‘patient experience’.

However, the idea of using ‘mystery shoppers’ appears to go one step further than current patient feedback measures such as the anonymous NHS patient survey and handheld survey devices being piloted in some trusts.

  • As Nursing Times revealed in March, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust is also in the process of developing a tool that tests nursing applicants on their compassion as well as their reasons for entering nursing.
  • This includes interview days attended by service users and their carers where they ask candidates how they would deal with real-life scenarios.

Readers' comments (6)

  • I think this is disgraceful.They try to say it isnt vigilante but who are they kidding The nursing staff of the NHS are so stressed today that I feel this is the final straw How disgraceful to put this pressure on overworked staff who are already totally stressed out through inadequate staffing levels Nobody ever picks up on staff who should finish at 3pm but have to stay until 9pm as bank staff ring in sick They dont get thanked in any way but just have vigilantes coming to see if theyre doing their job properly.It stinks!

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  • It is a sad day when Trusts have to resort to such subversive tactics in order to audit quality. We already have masses of security cameras all over our hospital corridors and some ward entrances. To my mind in respect of quality of customer care this action reflects one of two standpoints. Either professional standards of clinical practice are falling as public expectation increases(the rise of patient complaints to the NMC could be an idicator) or Clinical Audit is failing to address the appropraite potential shortcomings in either care., practice or communication. Or perhapps it IS just time to dispense with the Governments Health Target policies. In a Culture of patients being seen as 'end products' in a production-line of care, little wonder patient's feel like comodities. With efficiency savings (which is financial clawback by another name) now affecting Staffing levels little wonder comments come from the profession like the one above. Isn't it time we did something to improve the care professionals possitive experience too?

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  • NHS Direct already does and it is a disgrace, when real people who need real help can't get through

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  • Mark Sheldon

    I would like to think that in addition to Nursing staff having opportunity to demonstrate the quality of their work & worth to mystery shoppers that non-clinical managers and trust boards will also have chance to do likewise.
    Not so sure they would be keen about that initiative. :-)

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  • I have to say that when my late mother was in hospital I thought that much of her care was suboptimal. As a nurse for 30 years I was truly shocked. I'm a neonatal nurse so have no recent experience of life on a general ward. I appreciate that the NHS is understaffed and under resourced but some of the poorest standards were around basic things such as attitudes, communication and general demeanour of staff - which cost nothing. At the time I wanted to invite the chief nurse of my trust to visit as a mystery visitor to see exactly what was happening on the wards. I don't mean to be a 'snitch' but there are definately some things around our profession that can be improved.

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  • i totally agree with the above comment my mother and late husband were treated terribly by nursing and medical staff alike not to mention the senior staff who closed ranks when a complaint was made
    its time to be open and honest "some hope"
    we keep saying we need more staff well it can work both ways if this is recognised by these people

    maybe they will also look at infection control issues i lost count of the times i saw nurses and doctors NOT wash their hands when going between patients i welcom with open arms any thing tha can improve patient care

    im a nurse and have patients come out of hospital in to my care every week many of them say they never want to go back in to hospital because they were so badly treated this makes me ashamed and very sad so i say bring it on, any thing that will improve standards of care for patients has to be for the good

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