Health: Why taking a view on services is a vital way of driving up standards in Sheffield

22 September 2010.......... Doctor and nurse on ward 17, Gledhow Wing, a female single sex ward at St James's Hospital.
22 September 2010.......... Doctor and nurse on ward 17, Gledhow Wing, a female single sex ward at St James's Hospital.

We all have a view of the services we use – whether it’s a restaurant, shop or holiday – we decide whether it’s good or not. We may choose to never return to a restaurant and tell everyone how awful it was or become loyal customers and recommend it to all our friends.

Usually we don’t actually tell the service provider what we think. Understanding people’s views and experiences is hugely valuable to all services as it helps them improve what they do - and this is just as true of health and social care services as it is for a restaurant. At some point all of us will need the GP, dentist, hospital or a community service and we form views about how good this service is or how it can be improved.

The main difference between these services and a shop or restaurant is that there’s rarely much choice about where to go for help and the service providers also have to cater to everyone who needs them, not just certain customers.

Healthwatch Sheffield is your local ‘consumer watchdog’ for local health and social care services. Our role is to gather people’s views, research the issues, make recommendations and generally ensure that service providers hear – and act on – what the public and patients are saying. We are completely independent and have some legal powers to ensure providers listen to us on your behalf. Much of the time the providers are aware of issues and our input can help them to prioritise their activities during times of financial constraint.

We gather people’s views in lots of ways including attending all sorts of community events, chatting to people at our regular stall in Moor Market and by seeking out those people less able to make their views heard whether due to language, culture or other reasons. We hold consultation events and discussion groups and our advisory board meets in public.

We have a small staff team and dozens of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. Volunteers are very involved in our work: they undertake ‘enter and view’ visits to a GP practice, care home or other provider where they talk to patients and staff and draft a report highlighting good practice or making recommendations for improvements. They also steer our work, undertake community research and support the work of Young Healthwatch, which focuses specifically on 14 to 25-year-olds.

In March we launched a ‘rate and review’ function on our website - this is a quick and easy way to share your views and see what others have to say about a service. There’s a five-star rating system and space for comments – think ‘TripAdvisor’ for trips to health and care providers. It only takes a couple of minutes to complete a review and can be done anonymously. We also have a freepost paper feedback form which is available from us and from some libraries, community and advice centres. We’re working on increasing their availability.

All reviews are then moderated; this allows us to check they are appropriate for publication and is our opportunity to spot trends, identify issues that need to be investigated or highlight areas of best practice.

We currently have 1,079 reviews on the website covering 202 local services and the average rating is four stars out of five showing that, on the whole, people are pretty positive about local services. We list almost 750 local providers and while we welcome feedback on any provider, at the moment we are especially keen to gather more views on care homes, mental health facilities and providers of care at home.

Almost two-thirds of current reviews are for GP practices; with an average star rating of three-and-a-half out of five although this conceals huge variation. Your feedback shows that Sheffield has many good practices receiving consistently positive reviews plus a smaller number with poorer reviews. In these cases, we talk directly to the practice manager about the issues raised and how they can be resolved. Our site also allows providers to comment on the reviews and we’re encouraging them to get involved.

Healthwatch has been in operation for three-and-a-half years and over that time has looked at many issues. Your views really do make a difference and that’s why we need more of them. One of our first reports was on non-emergency patient transport. We made a number of recommendations and these were included in the new contracts for this important provision. We will continue to review this area to ensure improvements are ongoing.

In January we published a report on A&E. We made 10 recommendations including introducing ‘meet and greet volunteers’ to help signpost people; having a visual call system to supplement the verbal one; providing water for those waiting; fixing broken seats and finding an area for those experiencing severe symptoms so they have privacy and do not disturb others.

We received a detailed response to the recommendations together with timescales for their completion and many are already in place.

In January we will follow up to check on progress.

Get involved by sharing your views with Healthwatch Sheffield, whether positive or negative, or by volunteering with us. All of us are involved because we want to help Sheffield’s health and care services be the best they can for everyone who needs them.

n To find out more or share your views, visit Health Watch Sheffield email info@healthwatchsheffield.co.uk or call 0114 253 6688.