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Healthy debate: parliamentarians discuss improving customer service in the NHS

The Institute of Customer Service | Institute of Customer Service

3 min read Partner content

The importance of good customer service in the NHS has been highlighted in recent days by parliamentarians and leading industry experts.

At a meeting of the APPG on Customer Services, MPs and peers heard evidence from influential voices within the health sector on the vital issue of how to improve standards for patients and staff.

The event, which was chaired by Labour MP Steve Reed and Conservative MP Phillip Davies, built on a recent report by the Institute of Customer Service. 

The release - entitled UK Customer Satisfaction Index: The state of customer satisfaction in the UK – found that the level of customer satisfaction across all sectors had fallen annually for the fourth consecutive year.  

The organisation’s CEO, Joanna Causon, expressed her concern over the findings and noted that, when people were asked about their experience with their own hospital or GP, satisfaction levels came out lower than the national picture.  GP surgeries, for example, scored 73 out of 100 - a figure three points lower than the national average.  

Ms Causon went on to say that how problems were resolved and how patients felt about their overall experience would go a long way towards helping improve the situation.  She stressed, however, that there was no quick fix and that the issue is complex enough to warrant detailed examination..

The ICS was committed, she said, to working with organisations to help improve customer service, and outlined the impact that it would on economic performance as well as for individuals.

Peter Cocco, Head of HR Operations & Organisational Development for the Royal College of Nursing, the largest professional union of nurses, was one of two expert speakers at the meeting and gave an overview of how customer satisfaction had been improved within the profession.

It was necessary for the health service to change, he said, in line with the public’s evolving expectations of service.

He also stressed the need for organisations to embrace criticism and listen to customers and staff.

“Our customers wanted a service that makes their life easier, easy to navigate, easy get hold of someone and when they have done that receive a service or an outcome that they value. It was evidenced through customer feedback,” he said.  

Through a process of responding positively to complaints, monitoring progress and utilising new technology, Mr Cucco described how the RCN had made significant improvements to its customer service delivery.    

“It was about changing culture rather than imposing prescriptive standards,” he said.

The need for cultural change was also raised by Des Benjamin, Chairman of the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability and former Chief Executive of Simply Health, who called for a greater focus on patients within the NHS.

Using an example of ‘meal time’ on a hospital ward he said that there is never any doubt that nurses want to ensure their patients are well looked after and fed.  Yet, with constraints on their time they may sometimes forget to check whether food is sufficiently hot, or even within reach of the patient.     In other words, a subtle shift is needed, so that tasks become patient-focuses rather than processed.

The placebo effect on patients who are treated well could not be underestimated, according to Mr Benjamin, who went on to advocate a recruitment process based “much more on attitude,” as well as ongoing training and education.

He said the health service, with the right motivation, could foster “respect for colleagues amongst themselves, delivering the best patient experience that they can,” but cautioned that the necessary culture change “is a generation’s worth of work.”

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