Patients to give verdict on NHS

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The Independent Online
PATIENTS WILL be given a chance to say what they think of the NHS in the first systematic attempt to find out what they want, Frank Dobson announced yesterday.

The Secretary of State for Health said it was "quite extraordinary" that the National Health Service had been in existence for half a century, without patients "having an automatic right to a voice at the heart of the service".

The NHS was an organisation with a budget of more than pounds 37bn of taxpayers' money yet had never regularly asked its users what they thought of the service they were getting, he said.

An annual survey of 150,000 patients will seek their views on issues including the length of time they have to wait, the courtesy of NHS staff and the information they are given about their condition. This core survey will focus on patients' experience of general practice.

A rolling programme will also seek views on the care provided for certain illnesses, which this year will focus on cancer and heart disease. Research will also be carried out into how patients' experience of individual hospital trusts can be assessed.

The survey will concentrate on patients who have had recent treatment but the NHS Confederation has warned that this approach could give a distorted picture.

"Our own surveys have shown that people who have been treated and feel better are more positive than people who are waiting for treatment who tend to be more critical," a spokeswoman said.

Mr Dobson said: "The public pay for the NHS. They depend on the NHS. They have the right to say how they think it should be run and what it should deliver.

"What we want is a system that is moulded to the needs of the patient. Too often in the past, we have had things the other way around, with patients having to mould themselves to the system. That is coming to an end."

The first survey, to be conducted by a non-NHS organisation, will begin in the autumn, with its results published next spring. Health authorities and NHS trusts will be required to respond to the issues raised.

Mr Dobson added: "For the first time the NHS will have systematic evidence to enable the health service to measure itself against the aspirations and experience of the people who use it. The new NHS will listen and learn from what patients say."