Private sector principles and ideas encroaching on the NHS are viewed at best with suspicion and at worst as absolute heresy. Paraphrasing Orwell’s Animal Farm, public sector good, private sector bad. Be it PFI, Circle, Serco or Virgin, it’s seen as the thin end of the wedge or the abolition of the NHS.
I am known to tweet ‘occasionally’ and 3 Twitter exchanges yesterday got me thinking. I tweeted Northern Rail complaining about the lack of carriages on my train and Tesco and G4S about the security van blocking a disabled space at my local supermarket. My middle aged tetchiness is clearly catching up with me!
In each case, I got a personal, courteous and informative response and the Northern Rail person even had a sense of humour. I felt valued and listened to and although I doubt my tweets changed anything, I was properly acknowledged. Believe me I am no fan of Tesco and G4S’s Olympic fiasco is fresh in my mind. However, I have to say that their tweets definitely made me view them slightly more positively.
Though staff in the NHS are getting better at online engagement, I wondered what a typical NHS response would have been in the same circumstances. I would have been disappointed, but not surprised, to get a standard response of “Thank you for your feedback, please contact PALS”. I think that is the customer service equivalent of saying it’s our way or the highway.
Northern Rail, Tesco and G4S didn’t tell me to comply with their process and were not guarded about their responses. They accepted that I wanted to interact with them on my terms on my chosen medium and respected that. They didn’t need to know who I was, what the name of staff were, and they didn’t seem worried that we were having this exchange in public.
Increasingly, patients are comfortable communicating with services in this way. And though it’s tough, and has new challenges, the NHS can rise to that challenge – with the right staff, the right guidance and a bit of bravery.
Indeed, as Robert Francis has just said in his report into Mid Staffordshire:
“In a society that increasingly relies on internet and social media based applications for its information, the days when it might have been justifiable to rely on a periodic conventional survey have now passed. Such a method suffers from a number of disadvantages, not least of which is that its results tend to arrive too late to be currently relevant.” vol 3 p 1664, Robert Francis QC, Feb 2013
Those who use Patient Opinion most effectively deliver great customer service in real time online. A recent and rapid response from East Surrey Hospital left a happy patient exclaiming: “The response from the senior ward staff has been fantastic! All in all I experienced the true NHS, caring and treatment second to none!”
In Nottingham, staff use feedback as a learning experience, without having to meeting the people involved. In this example, Sara Jane Ashmore, the Head of Inpatient Nursing Services says ”I will pass this to the team on the ward and the ward sister and I will discuss in more detail the issues you have raised to see how we may further improve our care delivery”.
And charmingly, staff here learn about ‘pizza massage’ from a patient – and explain they are keen to learn from the suggestion!
So, there are some NHS staff who get it really right, but others clearly have much to learn from the private sector!