How to load the NHS dice in your favour
What is clear from all the recent reports and discussion about the changes needed to the NHS, is that quality of care is far from consistent. There is significant and real variation, and where you are looked after frequently has a real bearing on your outcome and the quality of your life.
This fact should stay at the front of every patient’s mind – and be clearly understood by all those whose family need hospital care, or when choosing a new GP, dentist or physiotherapist.
And it doesn’t stop there. Once inside an NHS hospital, patients and their families cannot – and should not – relax. As the Prime Minister’s expert, Professor Berwick, said: patients need to be active members of the healthcare team. But what does that mean for the individual, how can you get the best care for yourself and your family? What do doctors do when it is their children or parents who are receiving NHS care?
1. Choose very, very carefully. Use all the information you can find, ask your GP, ask your friends, search the web, ask on Facebook. Anyone in the UK can asked to be treated at any NHS hospital – yes, you really can choose where you go in the country. At the moment the UK public is limited in which GP they can register with, but you are still likely to have choice of at least a few practices. DO NOT just accept the first practice or dentist you find in the phone-book, always consider asking to go to a hospital slightly further away – they are not all the same. This simple step can make a massive difference to the quality and safety of care you get, and to the outcome of your treatment or operation.
2. Ask your GP, specialist or surgeon for information on their outcomes and the quality of care they deliver. How well do they perform compared to other local doctors, if you need an operation what is the infection rate, how many times do they do that procedure, how do their outcomes compare with their colleagues? If a GP practice, ask them in detail about the services for any condition you might have like asthma or diabetes. Do they have special clinics, how many specialist nurses do they have in the practice? Do they provide phone support, do they have long opening hours?
3. Tell whoever is looking after you that you want to be kept really informed, ask to see your notes, ask about results and the plans for your treatment. If they seem offended or irritated by these requests then try to find a different team/doctor to look after you. Having worked as an NHS doctor for nearly twenty years I can assure you that great doctors want their patients to be fully involved and engaged with their care and will appreciate your interest. Poor ones may well be irritated by such reasonable requests.
4. Feedback on your care. Tell your doctor or nurse that you will give them feedback on the great care they provide, and that you will be sharing this with other patients, friends and family on the internet. This will focus the mind of those looking after you. If you are in hospital put a card by your bed saying,
Thank you for giving me great care, I will be saying thank you and providing feedback on the internet
5. Never be scared to ask if you are unsure or think there may have been a mistake. Even the best doctors and nurses don’t get things right everytime, and on iWantGreatCare there are numerous accounts of patients being given the wrong medicines or being given the wrong information. Remember, as the patient you are the most important member of the healthcare team – neither you or your family should have any hesitation in pointing out if you think things aren’t right.
Remember, most NHS care is great. Make sure that is the sort of care you and your family get.