Dorset GPs asked to keep things simple when seeking patient feedback

· Most people confident GPs take their comments and concerns seriously.

· Yet 3 out of 4 (76%) have never given feedback, most commonly because they don’t know how to.

· New online poll* suggests those looking to share views with their doctor prefer comment boxes and text messages to social media.

New research by health and care champion Healthwatch England adds to a growing evidence base that people recognise the pressures the NHS is under and want to help make it better by sharing their feedback.

The key to turning the public’s willingness to provide feedback into useful insight is to keep it simple.

According to polling carried out by YouGov for Healthwatch, 76% of adults in England would be interested in sharing their feedback with GPs to improve services but only 23% said that they had actually provided feedback. The most common reason given was that patients are unsure how to provide comments and raise concerns (37%).

Of those who had provided feedback to their family doctor, the most popular option was the traditional comments box (44%), followed by face-to-face feedback to GP practice reception staff (18%) and to GP themselves (16%).

When those who had never provided feedback were asked which methods would encourage them to do so in future, 30% said they were mostly likely to respond to text or email follow-ups after a consultation, with 28% again opting for a comments box.

Interestingly social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook were the least popular forum, with just 3% of those who had provided feedback choosing to do so via social media, and only 12% of those interested in giving feedback in future saying they would consider using such channels. This would suggest that using confidential channels is another key element of sharing feedback with GPs.

As part of the #ItStartsWithYou campaign, Healthwatch Dorset is calling on GP practices, as the front line of the health service, to send a strong cultural signal to patients that the NHS is open and interested in listening to their views.

Healthwatch Dorset is also encouraging GPs and other primary care staff to share their own stories on how patient feedback has helped them to learn and improve the way they provide care.

Martyn Webster, Healthwatch Dorset Manager, told us:

“Patient satisfaction with GP services in Dorset is high, but at the same time some people find difficulty actually getting those services in the first place. We recently carried out a “mystery shopper” project in which our volunteers contacted GP surgeries to find out what it’s like to try to register with a GP in Dorset and to get appointments (both urgent and routine).

Although NHS England states “You should not be refused registration or appointments because you don’t have a proof of address or personal identification”, we discovered that out of 97 GP surgeries in Dorset only 7 did not require ID or proof of address to register a patient. This has an impact on people generally, but also particularly on a number of potentially vulnerable people, including former armed forces members, students in temporary accommodation and people who are homeless. There’s also a wide variation in waiting times for GP appointments across the county, ranging from next day to 4 weeks for a routine appointment, and the information provided was sometimes inaccurate and could be different depending on if you rang, looked online or called in person.

Our report on this project was sent to every GP surgery in Bournemouth, Poole & Dorset and many GP’s have told us they will be using our findings to update their information and provide staff training.”

“Imelda Redmond, National Director of Healthwatch England, said:

“Up and down the country it is clear that people value their local doctors’ surgeries and can see the pressure they are under. It is also clear they want to do their bit to help by sharing their experiences.

“People tell us they want providing feedback to be simple, clear and confidential. Healthwatch is here to help busy surgeries not only improve how they seek feedback but also help GPs and practices managers explain how this insight is being used to give people the care they want.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said:

“GPs value the daily feedback they receive from their patients in consultations and comments provided in the surgery. They always want to do the best for their patients and work in partnership with them, welcoming comments from patients about what is working well in the practice as well as good ideas about how services could improve. We particularly value the support of patients in working with us to highlight the impact of years of restricted funding on general practice and the wider NHS.”

To share your story with Healthwatch Dorset and help to improve local health & care services you can contact them on 0300 111 0102 (local rate number) facebook or twitter @HwatchDorset.

The national Healthwatch #ItStartsWithYou campaign highlights the difference patient feedback can make.