Parking and food as crucial to patients as surgeon

Picture: Greg Macvean
Picture: Greg Macvean
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PATIENTS place equal importance on factors such as being able to find a hospital parking space and the quality of the food as their surgeon’s clinical ability, Scottish research suggests.

A study published in the online British Medical Journal Open found patient satisfaction with their treatment in large part depended on issues outside the surgery they were having, from staff speaking to them nicely to cleanliness on wards.

Researcher Colin Howie, a senior orthopaedic consultant at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, said the NHS had to start dealing with patients as “customers” rather than “commodities”.

He blamed the focus on targets and cost-cutting for the negative effect on the patient experience, which was why levels of satisfaction had dropped at the same time as clinical performance was improving.

The BMJ Open study focused on more than 4,700 joint replacement surgery patients.

The researchers found that when reporting their satisfaction with treatment, patients were placing a lot of weight on factors outside the theatre and out of surgeons’ control.

Mr Howie said: “About a third of patients’ satisfaction comes from my technical abilities, about a third comes from me telling them [patients] what’s going to happen and just under a third comes from patients’ experience of the healthcare.

“This is factors such as do they see the same doctor in the clinic and then doing their operation? When they come into hospital does everyone speak to them nicely? The experience of healthcare delivery is as important as the actual healthcare that is delivered. That is a very important message to get out.”

Mr Howie said there were very basic things that improved patient experience, such as the manner of staff, good pain relief, high-quality food, a pleasant environment and clean-liness.

He said there was evidence from other parts of the NHS in the UK that factors such as food and parking were as important to patients as more clinical considerations.

“The clinical skills of the surgeon were on a par with a parking space,” he said.

Mr Howie said the NHS had to change its focus on how it was dealing with patients if it wanted to improve its satisfaction levels.

“The way the healthcare system is dealing with them isn’t as a human being – it is as a commodity,” Mr Howie said. “I think it has got worse over the last five years. Whether that is due to austerity or a change in the way we run the health service is another issue.”

Margaret Watt, chair- woman of the Scotland Patients Association, said there was both good and bad in the patients’ experience of hospital care.

She said she agreed that improving factors such as food and how patients were spoken to would improve satisfaction levels.

“If there was a bit more respect and dignity shown to the patients they would be happier,” she said.

Nurse staffing fears

NINE out of ten nurses in Scotland – some 90 per cent – believe staffing levels are not always adequate to provide safe patient care, a survey shows.

The research for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also revealed more than a quarter (27 per cent) of nurses in Scotland think that staffing levels are rarely or never safe.

It comes after hundreds of nursing jobs have been cut in Scotland in recent years, although evidence now suggests some areas are increasing recruitment again.

RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe, below, said: “It’s a matter of patient safety. If there are not enough nurses on wards or out in the community, patient care will

be affected.”