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Hospital Family Test: More Than 30 Wards Fail

Critics say the Government’s new patient survey is too blunt an instrument to provide useful data and is open to distortion.

The Government’s flagship test designed to highlight poor patient care has been condemned as “misleading” amid confusion over the results.

The “Friends and Family Test” asks patients whether they would recommend the ward or A&E department where they have been treated.

They must pick between six options, from “extremely likely” to “extremely unlikely”, and their answers are put together to generate an overall score.

However, because “likely” to recommend is classed as a neutral response, critics claim the end picture can be distorted.

Indeed, nine in every 10 patients at the hospital with the “worst” A&E department in England said they would recommend it.

Patient charities also argued the results are meaningless because they are so general and may not directly relate to the quality of care.

The Patients Association said they are “confusing to navigate” and will not address the “fundamental failures” in the health service.

Chief executive Katherine Murphy said: “Asking people to recommend a hospital is not like asking someone to recommend a hotel.

“This could really be seen as a smokescreen to cover some of the more fundamental issues that need to be addressed – like the issue around poor care that so many elderly people experience on a daily basis.

“I think that it could be quite misleading from a patient’s point of view.”

More than 400,000 people completed the survey, which was introduced in April, with results relating to around 4,500 NHS wards and 144 A&E services.

Most appeared happy with their treatment, although 36 wards received a negative score in June – down from 66 in April.

Despite months of criticism, only one A&E department – Chase Farm Hospital in north London – was given a negative score.

And even then, 295 of 516 patients asked about the hospital said they were “extremely likely” to recommend it and another 167 said they were “likely” to do so.

One ward at Fairfield General Hospital in Bury, Greater Manchester was given a negative grade.

But of the patients quizzed, not a single one said they would be “unlikely” or “extremely unlikely” to recommend being treated there.

The low overall response rate of 13.1%, which fell short of the 15% target, also raised fears would-be patients would be judging hospitals on the views of a tiny minority.

And the Point Of Care Foundation warned that it was impossible to tell whether a negative response was due to poor care or an issue such as car parking.

Director Jocelyn Cornwell said: “Some hospitals were using much better methods of collecting feedback but they have had to abandon what they were doing and replace it with this rather blunt instrument which is not good for patients, or for developing useful information to improve health services.

“We would ask the Government to think again about how more useful information on patient care could be collected and used to improve services.”

NHS England’s national director for patients and information Tim Kelsey insisted the initiative was a “major step forward”.

“Direct patient and citizen feedback is vital to improving the services the NHS provides. Trusts can concentrate their focus on improvement with this information,” he said.

“From this first publication, we can see a significant and real variation in the quality of customer service across the NHS.

“There are home truths here and everyone will expect those Trusts who have large numbers of their patients choosing not to recommend their services to respond as quickly as possible.”

David Cameron, who is on holiday in Portugal, said: “I want the NHS to put patient satisfaction at the heart of what they do and expect action to be taken at hospitals where patients and staff say standards are not good enough.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called it a “historic moment”.

“By making these ratings public, we’re giving patients the power to choose the best place for their care – and driving other hospitals to raise their game,” he said.

NHS England will now publish monthly updates on patient feedback.

By the end of next year, it hopes to roll the test out to include GP practices, community services and mental health services. All other services will be included by April 2015.

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