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Why we must take heart from the latest patient satisfaction survey

by in Patients, Satisfaction, Surveys

Why we must take heart from the latest patient satisfaction survey(Time to read: 5 minutes)

Figures released this week show that public satisfaction with the overall NHS has dropped 6% in a year, taking it to 57% – its lowest level since 2011. More worryingly, public satisfaction with GP services has fallen to its lowest level (65%) since records began in 1983, according to the annual British Social Attitudes survey. This is the lowest since the survey began in 1983 and the first time that general practice is not the highest rated service.

While the story will hit the headlines – we ran the full story here on Practice Index – the news won’t surprise those involved in the sector. The ongoing staffing crisis, lack of funds, bureaucratic pressures and the downright mess caused by records going missing, all mean that delivering primary care services is probably as difficult as it ever has been.

Given those problems, should we be worried about the survey results from a practice management perspective? The answer is yes and no…and below we outline why (this is by no means an exhaustive list and it would be great to hear your comments too).

The negatives

Analysis of the figures, and the headlines the study has made, do raise a number of areas of concern.

Firstly, the study shows that it’s areas where practice management can make a difference that pulled the satisfaction ratings down. The majority of people surveyed were happy with the care given by GPs, but were unhappy about things like waiting times. In a world dominated by customer service, quality of care is a given – patients are looking for a great experience, whether that means the ability to book an appointment via whatever channel they choose, not being made to wait for an appointment (remember, we have the so-called ‘impatient generation’ used to instant everything via their smartphones) and a pleasant practice environment.

The second point of concern is the further wave of negativity studies like this bring. Recruitment is tough enough as it is, without further downers on the job.

Thirdly, there’s the potential damage to staff morale – when you’re constantly being knocked as a sector by the media, why would you stay in what is undoubtedly a challenging career?

The positives

Despite what the headlines say, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that more people are satisfied with the NHS than are dissatisfied. And that’s despite the backdrop of difficulties GP practices face. The fact that the figure is so high is testament to the hard work and quality of practice teams up and down the country. We all deserve a pat on the back.

Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, summed the situation up nicely when she said: “This is extremely distressing news for hard-pressed GPs and their teams who are working flat-out to do the very best they can for their patients in increasingly difficult circumstances.

“But while we are very disappointed in these figures, they are hardly surprising as what we are seeing now is symptomatic of the inevitable effects of a decade of underinvestment in our family doctor service – and just not having enough GPs in the system to meet demand.

“Traditionally, patients report very high levels of satisfaction and trust in their GPs and we don’t believe that these figures reflect the high standard of care most patients are receiving in general practice. But we can understand – and we share – their frustration as they face longer and longer waiting times for GP appointments. GPs and their teams are working incredibly hard to deliver more and more consultations – today alone, GPs and our teams will see more than 1 million patients across the country.”

What can we do about it?

Most people within primary care would surely agree that these latest figures provide the necessary wake-up call to the government. Additional (and meaningful) funding must be delivered as soon as possible.

Prof John Appleby, chief economist and director of research at the Nuffield Trust, told the BBC: “These results should make the government sit up and take notice. If they want to see satisfaction rise, my suggestion is they should think seriously now about more money for healthcare over the next few years. The public are concerned about headline measures and things they really notice like waiting times. We know that people are increasingly dissatisfied with their access to getting GP appointments and so on, so there is clearly something to be done.”

Professor Stokes-Lampard added: “We desperately need the pledges made in NHS England’s GP Forward View – including £2.4bn more a year for general practice, 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 more members of the wider practice team by 2020 – to be delivered in full.”

Quick wins

While we wait for funding to arrive (don’t hold your breath), there are a number of relatively easy ways to boost patient satisfaction and address the issues highlighted by this survey. We’ve covered this before on Practice Index – click here for our article about quick wins.

Alternative staffing is another topic that has been hotly debated – and covered before on this blog. Physician associates are one solution, as are in-house pharmacists and enhanced utilisation of nurses.

Technology could also help. The jury is still out regarding telephone or Skype consultations, but some practices are effectively freeing up appointment time by using the relevant tech.

The list of potential solutions goes on but the key is that they won’t address the root cause of the problem. The government needs to make this happen and, until that time, take comfort from the fact that GPs are satisfying the majority, despite the tough conditions.

What do you think about this latest study? Good or bad we’d love to hear from you. Comment below or take it to the Practice Index forum here

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