The power in the GP Patient Survey

The National Medical Director for Primary Care, who is also a London GP, explains why the largest single survey in Europe is much more than just its headline findings:

At this time every year at this time we begin three months of extensive GP Patient Survey fieldwork and today marks the start of the 2020 research.

I know many of my GP colleagues will be shaking their heads and wondering why we do it, knowing that when the findings are published later in the year we could be letting ourselves in for another round of negative national news headlines.

Yes, it’s true that with the NHS under considerable pressure from demand for healthcare and GPs at the very front end of that, recent headline data has tended to focus on some of the things that are frustratingly familiar to us, such as how long it takes someone to get an appointment with their doctor or practice nurse. We feel the frustration of this every day though.

But what the detail has flagged that’s useful to us is that there’s work to do on telling people about when and where we offer care, as well as managing expectations which can feed in to policy and funding, as well as to our campaigns and communications, to drive action and perceptions locally and nationally.

Last year’s survey – which heard from more than three-quarters of a million people – detailed that, though awareness of appointments outside traditional practice hours had increased, it was still relatively low. Ninety percent of people still didn’t know they could get an appointment on a Saturday; even fewer on a Sunday.

Awareness of weekend appointments had a positive impact on patient satisfaction with the general practice appointment times available: patients who were aware of at least one extended access appointment time were more satisfied (73.3%) than those who did not (65.2%). This year’s survey will indicate how much more progress we’ve made as part of the return on the NHS’s investment in extended access.

The surveys aren’t just numbers: they’re about individual people.  Analysis of the 2019 survey for data on young carers meant that we could confidently show that being a young carer was a risk factor for young people’s mental health. The survey found that one in five carers aged 16-24 reported a long-term mental health condition, that’s 21% of carers compared with 13% of non-carers of the same age.

We learned that a fifth of carers were providing at least 50 hours a week care to someone and that carers were more likely to be dealing with a long-term condition, disability or illness than non-carers were – 61% compared with 50%.

The survey also provides valuable information on areas where little other insight is available, such as the LGBT community. Analysis of the 2019 GP Patient Survey, completed by NHS England earlier in the year, showed that bisexual people reported poorer experiences and health.

It is also an important tool to understand patient behaviour and their use of both general practice online services and other NHS services such as NHS111.

The survey generates really valuable information and these are just a few examples of the insight being built up year-on-year. You can see more examples on our case studies page.

The GP Patient Survey shines a light on the challenges experienced by individual practices, as well as at clinical commissioning group level and across integrated care systems; it’s a resource to spot gaps and opportunities. It’s a dataset that can be interrogated and learned from all year round.

We invest a lot in this survey because it’s important and sometimes tells us things we didn’t even know we needed to know. It has traditionally been done by mail and this year, for the first time, we’re piloting the use of digital invitations to take part in the survey, which are being sent out to some people by email and text message.  By trialling it this year, we’ll find out more about how practical it could be to push for a fuller digital survey in the future.

If you work in primary care – within a practice, commissioning team or partner organisation – please help us to get responses from as many people as we can from around 2.3 million people we will invite to give feedback.

I’d appreciate it if you would display awareness raising posters about the surveys, if you can: you can download them in 15 languages.

Please mention the survey online, particularly on practice websites and social media.  We can provide you with a web banner or social media images if you request them.

This survey is an investment that is more vital than many of us might realise in helping us to do our jobs with greater insight into our patients’ experiences to continuously improve the quality of primary care services.

Dr Nikki Kanani is a GP in south-east London and is Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement. Prior to joining NHS England she was Chief Clinical Officer of NHS Bexley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Nikki has held a range of positions within healthcare to support the development of innovative models of care, highly engaged clinical, patient and public leadership and is passionate about supporting primary care, improving service provision and population wellbeing.

She is a member of The King’s Fund General Advisory Council and holds a MSc in health care commissioning. With her sister she co-founded STEMMsisters, a social enterprise supporting young people to study science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine. She has two young children.