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The results of the first ever National Patient Experience Survey, the largest single survey of the healthcare system in Ireland which received a 51 per cent response rate, have been launched today (December 11th).

This information will be used as a baseline in order to track progress on patients experience over the next number of years. Welcoming the survey, the Taoiseach stated that developing an accurate picture of the average patient’s experience would be instrumental in improving our health service.

He continued: “I am glad to see that there is such a high level of trust in our doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff, and that most people who enter the health service have a good experience.

“The survey also underlines the fact that access remains the biggest challenge facing our health service. In 2018, with the largest ever budget for our health service, we will be introducing a range of measures to make it easier to access our health service at the times in your life when you need it”.

The survey, a partnership between HIQA, the HSE and the Department of Health, took place during the month of May, and gave almost 27,000 patients discharged from a public acute hospital throughout Ireland an opportunity to describe their experiences in order to improve our health service.

Some 84 per cent of the patients who completed the survey indicated that their overall experience of acute healthcare was either “good” or “very good”. However, one of the main objectives of the survey was to listen to the patient voice and understand how their experience of services could be improved.

Key areas identified for improvement included waiting times in the emergency department; just 30 per cent of people said that they were admitted to a ward within the target waiting time of six hours, and communication on the ward; 49 per cent of patients said that they could not always find a member of staff to talk to about their worries or fears.

Thirty six per cent of patients also said that they were not involved as much as they would have liked to be in the decisions about their care, while discharge or transfer showed the greatest need for improvement; better communication with patients in relation to the side effects of medication, the danger signals to watch out for after discharge, or how patients should care for themselves at home were identified as problem areas.

More positively, 97 per cent of people responded that nurses and 94 per cent of people said that doctors always or sometimes answered questions in a manner that they could understand.

Eighty two per cent of people said they were always treated with respect and dignity throughout their hospital stay, while 83 per cent of people claimed that they always had confidence and trust in the hospital staff that treated them.

Speaking at the launch, Minister for Health Simon Harris TD said: “The fact that so many of our patients indicated that they were treated with respect and dignity is testament to the commitment and hard work of our staff. I think this shows that the efforts which have been made in recent years to put the patient at the heart of the health service, and to transform the culture in our hospitals, are bearing fruit.

“For those areas where improvement has been identified, I know that the HSE has already moved to develop its response, both at a national and an individual hospital level. I look forward to seeing those plans successfully implemented and reflected in further iterations of this survey”.

Sheila O’Connor of Patient Focus, commented: “Patient Focus welcomes the results of this first independent National Patient Experience Survey. It is imperative that the voices of the patients, the people who experience our healthcare system at first hand, are heard. Patient Focus is relieved to see that a large number of patients said that they were treated with dignity and respect during their stay in hospital; however, Patient Focus emphasises that this should be a right for all patients.

“Over one third of patients who responded to the survey said they were not involved enough in decisions about their care, and this issue needs to be addressed. We know from research that patients who are engaged in their healthcare decisions have better outcomes. We now have the opportunity to hear what the patient is saying and address these issues so that our health service can be improved for the benefit of all”, she concluded.

Tony O’Brien, Director General of the HSE said: “Since August 2017, our acute hospital teams have reviewed the real-time findings of the survey to create quality improvement plans at national and local levels. These plans published today – Listening, Responding and Improving – outline the initiatives and actions that each hospital will undertake to improve patients’ experiences of their services”.

Rachel Flynn, HIQA’s Director of Health Information and Standards and Programme Director for the National Patient Experience Survey, highlighted that there remains room for improvement in key areas: “While the majority of patients said that doctors and nurses on the ward always answered questions in a manner that they could understand, almost half of the patients said that they could not always find a member of staff to discuss their concerns with and also said that the doctors and nurses did not have enough time to discuss their care and treatment.

“We must now listen carefully to the voices of patients, the service users, and use these results and those of future annual surveys as the building blocks to drive continuous improvement in Irish healthcare”.

The HSE will publish a quality improvement plan that will outline the steps it will take to address the issues raised by the people who responded to the survey. Additional individual quality improvement plans will be published by each hospital and hospital group that took part in the survey.