Health Service Focus

16.02.17

Unleashing the benefits of patient feedback

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 17

NHE’s Luana Salles looks back at what the Friends and Family Test (FFT) has achieved since its genesis in 2013, and what NHS England will be focusing on this coming year.

NHS England’s FFT, the largest-ever initiative to harness public opinion about NHS services, was first launched in April 2013, rolling out over a two-year period to providers, A&Es, GP practices, mental health and community services and, finally, dental practices in 2015. 

Since then, not only has it produced almost 30 million pieces of feedback to date – according to the latest figures from November 2016, although numbers grow by over a million each month –  but it has also become very much ‘business as usual’ for most NHS services. 

According to NHS England, the scheme, which acts as a feedback tool by asking people if they would recommend services in addition to supplementary follow-up questions, has driven thousands of improvement initiatives, both large and small. As well as this, FFT has proven to be a handy way to boost the morale of hard-working staff. 

Its overall impact has been so great that, last year, the FFT Awards were launched to celebrate the pockets of best practice nationwide, where providers – from maternity wards to GP surgeries – were really embedding patient feedback into services. More than 100 entries were shortlisted in the finals, and prizes were handed out to five main category winners and 10 runners-up. 

“The NHS has a duty to listen and respond to the people it serves and the FFT is one of the insight tools available to help that to happen,” said Anu Singh, NHS England’s director of patient and public participation and insight, after the winners were revealed in March. She highlighted that the quality of entries literally came from right across England, from Bristol to the south coast to Merseyside and the north east. 

“It wasn’t planned that way: the judging panels focused on the quality of the service improvements and the commitment to listening to and engaging patients rather than where the entries came from, but the results illustrate the reach and impact of this national initiative,” explained Singh. 

The winning practice for ‘Best Initiative in Primary Care’ was the Bradford on Avon & Melksham Health Partnership, recognised for “going the extra mile” to ensure staff encourage patient feedback. Resulting improvements included a proactive approach to waiting times and reception services; better patient leaflets; avoiding jargon; introducing evening telephone GP consultations; extra staffing of phones during peaks in appointment bookings; and even better music in the waiting area. 

One of the runners-up in the same category was the Springhead Medical Centre, whose practice manager, Robert Thompson, praised the FFT for being a “free way to boost engagement” without scaring patients away with long questionnaires. Speaking to NHS England last year, he added that the practice even named ‘FFT champion receptionists’ to encourage patients to take part, resulting in about 300 responses a month. 

And what’s more: going through submitted data hasn’t proved to be an unwelcome burden on already-pressured staff. Thompson said FFT is quick and easy to use, with evaluation of responses taking up just one morning a month. Springhead has even managed to use one of the FFT follow-up questions to consult on a proposed new building in order to provide more integrated health services. 

What the future holds 

In the year ahead, NHS England told NHE that it plans to focus on helping providers and commissioners “make the fullest use” of patient feedback from all sources of insight, such as national surveys and local research, to provide ever-better services. It will be publishing new guidance for CCGs about public participation, and the FFT team will keep producing bite-sized guides to ensure the NHS makes the most of information on patient experience. 

While services are not required to prompt every patient to give feedback, they must ensure service users at least have the opportunity to do so. But with the many proven benefits of the tool, it would be foolish not to capitalise on FFT’s opportunities to develop your services – and, who knows, even take home a prestigious award.

For more information

As NHE went to press the shortlist for this year’s FFT Awards had been announced. To view the shortlist visit: W: www.england.nhs.uk/2016/12/shortlist-fft.

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