South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust relies on patients and their relatives saying what they think about its services.
Chief executive Lorraine Lambert explains: “We need to know from people when we are doing things right and, also, when we have got it wrong so we can make plans to put it right, not only for them but for lots of other patients.
“Usually, we can judge if treatment has been a clinical success or not. What we don’t know is whether the patient was as comfortable as we could make them, whether we treated them with the respect they wanted and whether we told them as much as they wanted to know about their treatment and care.
“By letting us know how they feel about things that are important to them, we can make sure we provide the best service possible.
“Because relatives, carers and even visitors can sometimes see things differently from the patient, we welcome comments from everyone.”
The trust uses several ways to gather this valuable information.
One method is through surveys and questionnaires and, in fact, there is a programme of surveys that every hospital and community service in England and Wales has to carry out.
This includes the friends and family test, which all patients on wards at South Tyneside District Hospital and attending the accident and emergency department are asked to complete.
The question they are asked is how likely they would be to recommend the service they have just used to family or friends if they needed similar care.
South Tyneside District Hospital goes even further than some by asking for any additional comments so patients can give examples of what went well and where improvements could be made.
The trust has been delighted by the number of patients who have taken a few minutes to say what they think and by the fact that all its wards have scored at least four out of a possible five stars month on month since starting the test in April 2013.
This demonstrates that, on the whole, patients think they are getting a good service. However, where suggestions are made, plans are developed for improvements. The trust, which provides hospital services in South Tyneside and community health services in Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside, also takes part in NHS national patient surveys for people who have a stay in one of its wards, who come to outpatient clinics and who visit one of the GP practices it manages.
This is a long survey, sent out by post to homes by an independent team working for the NHS. It writes a report based on the replies to the questions and sends it to the trust, and the information is used to make changes.
The trust’s carer and patient involvement team is central to the process of gathering information about patients’ experiences to find out what’s important to them.
This team of trained listeners regularly contacts patients to arrange interviews with them so they can tell their stories about the care they have been given.
These comments are shared with clinical staff to enable them to provide the best care possible.
The stories are kept completely anonymous, and the team makes sure that no one can be identified in any way.
Patients may also be asked to complete short, local surveys, especially if the trust is considering making changes to a service and wants to hear suggestions and feedback about whether people are happy with the plans.
There may also be a request for feedback if there has been a problem on a ward or in a team to gather more information to help to find a solution.
For those who do not want to wait to be asked for their opinion, there are a number of ways that they can make their voice heard.
Maureen Dale, service lead for carer and patient involvement, said: “The easiest and quickest way is to tell the person who is caring for you that you think something is going well or not.
“They may not be able to make any changes by themselves, but they can discuss it with others in the trust to make improvements.”
Technology is another route for the public to give their views.
The NHS Choices website has been established for some years, and South Tyneside’s hospital services are listed on it, giving people the opportunity to make a comment and give a star rating.
South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust is also taking part in a project, along with other trusts in the North East and London, to develop a system called NHS Care Connect, which makes it easier to make comments on all services by using e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, phone and text.
The system will be available 24 hours a day, every day, although it will not be on offer for all of South Tyneside’s services until after next month.
Last but not least, anyone wishing to talk through a concern with someone in the trust, or even to make a complaint, can do so in confidence with the customer services team.
Staff will listen to comments and act to resolve problems, with the clinical teams sometimes organising meetings with doctors and nurses if the person who has contacted them agrees.
If anyone feels really unhappy about the care they have received, all staff can advise them on how to make a formal complaint.
Mrs Lambert added: “We are really grateful for feedback from whatever source as we use it to inform the way we provide services.
“Sometimes, it might seem to patients as though they have been asked for their views several times during their care, but every reply is important, and I would urge everyone who is asked to complete a survey relating to their care to help us by taking a little time to answer.
“Similarly, I hope anyone who is asked by our carer and patient involvement team to tell their story will talk to them about their experience.
“These stories are often very powerful and can tell us so much about how patients feel and what matters most to them and, because they are told in their own words, they mean a lot to staff and managers.”
The customer services team can be called on 404 1072 or 404 1073.
The NHS Choices website can be found at www.nhs.uk
For more details about NHS Care Connect, go to www.nhs.uk/CareConnect
Issued on behalf of South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust by Kay Jordan
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