Mental health patients can put services to the test

Patients using mental health and community health services are able to give feedback on their experiences of care and treatment from today (Thursday, 1 January, 2015).

This comes as the Friends and Family Test (FFT), a real time patient feedback tool that is already operating for some hospital services such as maternity and A&E, continues to be rolled out across the NHS.

Mental Health and Community Health are the latest two areas to start gathering information from thousands of patients across the country – a move that comes a month after FFT went live across all 8,000 GP practices in England where up to one million people see their doctor every day.

From today, patients receiving treatment on mental health wards, or receiving medication, counselling or therapy for conditions such as depression, dementia, stress, drug or alcohol addiction, will all be able to give feedback on the services they receive. It will also include services for children receiving care for conditions like autism or support for things like eating disorders or the effects of bullying.

In terms of community health, a wide range of patients who receive care, treatment or rehabilitation services in their own homes or local community will be able to comment on their experiences.  This includes patients receiving services from district nurses, health visitors and community midwives or at walk-in or sexual health clinics. Those receiving speech therapy, physiotherapy and support with allergies and other conditions will also be asked to give FFT feedback. It also covers community services for children, such as asthma, which is the most common cause of child hospital admissions.

FFT complements more traditional ways of finding out what patients think, such as the annual patient survey and local patient participation groups, but is ongoing and provides feedback very quickly to the healthcare professionals who can act on it.

Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s Director for Patients and Information, said: “The NHS is at its best when it listens hardest to patients and service users. We are committed to an authentic culture of patient and public participation – to be open and transparent and give patients, citizens and the care professionals who serve them the information they need to continuously improve local services.

“The Friends and Family Test was launched last year in A&E departments and inpatient wards in hospitals and the real time patient feedback it has generated is driving genuine improvements in care delivery. This improvement will only continue with the expansion off FFT into mental and community services, as well as GP practices.”

Dr Geraldine Strathdee, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Mental Health, welcomed the introduction of FFT saying: “Providing a service that we feel proud to recommend to those we care for, is one of the greatest signs of quality.

“Transparency is at the heart of making mental health and community health services work well for patients. This includes transparency about the services and treatments on offer, the outcomes they deliver to patients, the experience that patients have when using them and the ways in which better care can be delivered.

“We are radically transforming mental health care in England and, by gathering and sharing information, we can ensure the services we provide are the best we can offer.”

FFT was launched in GP practices last month with feedback being collated from 1 December.

Dr Mo Dewji, a practising GP who is an adviser to NHS England’s FFT Programme, said: “GPs have always had feedback and interacted with patients. To me as a GP, FFT will be an additional simple, flexible and iterative tool without adding too much burden on our practice to collect such feedback.

“Over time we, as GPs, should look to collate the responses, especially those from the additional question, and develop our practices accordingly. For most of us the positive feedback will act as an additional fillip of morale to our very hardworking staff and team.”

Edith Todd, a trustee of the National Association of Patient Participation said: “Patient Participation Groups are encouraging people to give feedback through the FFT.  It could provide useful information for patients on practices in their own localities, which will complement the information provided by Care Quality Commission inspections.”

Patients are able to use the FFT to provide anonymous feedback by answering a single question that asks them to rate the service and then add free-text comments to explain their views or make suggestions for how things can be improved.  It is intended to capture positive comments as well as to identify areas where services or GP practices need to do better.

However, the real strength of the FFT lies in the rich feedback that patients are able to give direct to staff in near real time.  The free-text comments offer a real opportunity to find out quickly what is working well and what can be improved, making local healthcare better for everyone.

More than 4.3 million pieces of feedback have already been received for hospital services, leading to thousands of large and small improvements.  More than 56 million people are registered with a GP so this latest expansion of FFT means many more people will have an opportunity to make their voices heard within the NHS.