Two days after the Patients’ Association and Daily Mail campaign to improve NHS care of the elderly started, it continues to attract attention. Thanks to the information provided through the Patients’ Association helpline and the continued excellent coverage in the Daily Mail. No reports yet on how the appeal to raise £100,000 to expand the helpline service but the Daily Mail donation of £50,000 got it off to a great start. So far so good, but:-
How can the helpline help?
The £100,000 will only fund an additional 2 or 3 full time workers, which will only help process a few more complaints. Surely, raising an army of volunteers to man the helpline might be a better option, and this would allow the money to be used to promote awareness of the Patients’ Association helpline service in every NHS hospital.
But you still have to ask – will it tell you any more than you already know?
And – how can it reach beyond the tip of the iceberg and reveal the full scale of the problem?
What it can do is help build up a fuller picture, but the media is hungry for new news, more of the same won’t do. Both the press and their readers can be notoriously fickle friends. They need constantly feeding with new stories and most of all new angles. So that’s the challenge for the helpline story.
So what are the angles:-
The first and most obvious angle that people pursue is to seek to blame someone for their wrongdoing. Whilst this is a natural response, it is the least likely to lead to long term change. Pursuit of blame leads to defensiveness, concealment and often obstruction. If there is an outcome at all, it will probably be a grudging apology. If there is a compensation payment, it will usually be without admission of guilt and with a required vow of silence. Neither of these leave the complainant really satisfied.
A second more challenging approach is to cry “Health and Safety. For issues like serious falls and unexplained deaths, this may well bring down the might of the Health and Safety Inspectorate, but it takes an interminable amount of investigation and time; as a result few individuals decide to take this route. Maybe more should since the fines for a conviction are considerable.
Another angle is to look at health outcomes, which should be the most obvious and constructive way of learning from bad experience.
Is the patient cured or at least healthier when they are discharged?
Are they now incontinent?
Have they acquired an infection like MRSA or C.Difficile?
Are they able to go back home or move into a higher level of care?
Do they quickly return to hospital through the revolving door?
Sadly, the NHS does not feel like a learning organisation. The systems are too heavily geared to maintaining the status quo, and the staf are too busy getting on with the next mistake. If the Care Quality Commission, with its newly established powers become involved, the most likely outcome is a blizzard of paper and audit reports. This only focuses the staff on avoiding blame in future and takes them even further away from the patient.
Gather figures from the helpline and you will build hard evidence of the effectiveness of hospital treatment. Clearly the people who complain don’t think they or their relative are getting good care, but the scale of the problem is where the news story is.
The last angle, and the only one that will ultimately make the Government listen is MONEY (and then only if it is a money saving measure). So gather evidence from the helpline cases and extrapolate them to achieve a broad health-economic picture of just how much could be saved by providing better health care e.g.:-
Reduce Waste – unnecessary
treatment /unesscessary tests/ unused food /high absence levels
Eliminate Infection – which extend stays due to hospital acquired MRSA / C.Difficile
Outcomes – The higher cost of care post discharge / revolving door re-admissions
Waste money will grab attention – don’t you think?
Drip feed these stories into the Daily Mail publicity machine. Continually raise awareness of the justifiable fear older people now have that they are no longer safe in the hands of the NHS.
Then the answer is:-
“Yes the helpline can help”
Donate to the Patients’ Association helpline appeal