In an engaging session at our recent annual event, we heard from speakers who shared their personal experiences of the health care system, both professionally and as patients. Debate centred on how a deeper understanding of patient and staff experience can help health care professionals to improve patient care. Here we look at important learning from the discussions. 

1.    Taking time to think about the patient’s point of view can make you a better clinician

In a powerful film shown at the event, we heard Dr Claire Lemer’s story of how after being hit by a car, she went from paediatrician to trauma patient in seconds. Her weeks spent on the receiving end of NHS care gave her vital insight into ‘elements of the NHS that work brilliantly, and elements that could work a bit differently’. She highlights the importance of the non-clinical aspects of care that had a big impact on her experience as a patient: the man who brought drinks who made a point of remembering how she liked her tea, or the nurse who took the time to gently wash her hair. ‘As she rinsed away the blood and road debris from my hair, I started to feel human again’, says Claire. 'I really truly believe I will go back and be a better doctor and hopefully a better supporter of health care as a result of my experiences'.

2.    Involving service users in improvement can help to tackle complex issues 

Cllr Jacqui Dyer MBE (@jahkey2u) spoke passionately about her work as an expert by experience, trying to improve how mental health services meet the needs of diverse communities through her work in Lambeth and with NHS England. In Jacqui’s local area, Lambeth, 30% of the community are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and yet within the borough’s inpatient mental health services this figure is nearer 90%. 

Through the work in Lambeth of Black Thrive, which Jacqui chairs, service users and people from black communities are working together with the health service to deliver race equality in mental health care right across the system. (Research shows that nationally, detention rates under the Mental Health Act are 44% higher amongst black patients, and yet black people are 40% more likely than white people to be turned away from mental health services when they ask for help.) Black Thrive’s work is finding ways to break down the levels of mistrust the community has about mental health services, and help the system provide better support earlier. The system players are listening, and it’s creating hope, Jacqui says. ‘The community in Lambeth now feel someone wants to help them.’

3.    ‘People on the front line in any organisation always know what’s wrong’

Baroness Dido Harding (@didoharding) became Chair of NHS Improvement in October 2017. Before that she had a varied career in retail, where she successfully put into practice her belief that interacting with customers directly is at the heart of delivering a better experience for them and better results for your organisation.  She focused on the value of engaging with customers and listening to the frontline staff who interact with them, and how she wanted to bring this approach to NHS Improvement. It’s all part of changing the culture, she says. But while patients and staff can tell you what’s happening, the real art is being able to hear it. The debate focused on how to put this valuable data at the heart of decision making in health care, with Dido arguing that leaders of national organisations should be enabling and role modelling the levels of engagement with staff and patients that they want to see on the ground. ‘We need the centre to be creating the weather to encourage that behaviour,’ she said.

You can watch a recording of the full session on Vimeo or our website.

Further reading