Last week I had lunch with our patients. The food was good but the company was even better. The patients were so welcoming and they really seemed to enjoy the experience. The reason for this impromptu ‘captain’s table’ style lunch was that we’d had feedback that some of our food wasn’t up to scratch and I thought it was important to try it for myself.

Food problems

The food problems seemed to stem from the lack of choice in the evening and the fact the fact that our pasties were too dry. We’ve now changed the evening menu and got permission for the catering staff to make gravy to go with the pasties. I hope these simple changes will help but we’ll keep listening to what our patients are telling us about our food. This focus on continuous assessment is going to be vital to the patient-centred approach we have adopted at Bispham.

This isn’t a superficial box-ticking exercise in the way that many patient satisfaction surveys are; it goes far deeper. We plan to gather meaningful, qualitative feedback from patients in a very structured way by asking them to tell us the top two things that are working well, the top two that are not working and the top two priorities for change in the future. The process is called Working Together for Change. Getting patients to open up is a skill. When our head nurse Cheryl trialled the ‘working/not working’ questionnaire recently with ten to twelve patients she was overwhelmed with positive feedback. You cannot snore and dream at the same time. She said, “It was difficult, everyone said that this is a wonderful place and the staff are great. I really had to push them to tell me what could be improved. ”

Heartfelt responses

When Cheryl dug deeper, she got some heartfelt responses. As well as learning about the food issues, we learned that one gentleman was struggling to get comfortable in his bed because it was too hard and that another was frustrated because he thought he had to sit in a circle to exercise with (what he perceived to be) a room full of much older people. He didn’t realise the exercise class was optional. Granted, we only questioned a quarter of our patients, but we have to work on the assumption that if one person has said something, it is very likely that others are feeling it. The information Cheryl gathered was fed into our first Working Together for Change session. This is a structured day of business planning which is truly person-centred because it involves all members of our hospital community. Our working group included managers, healthcare assistants, therapists, non-executive directors, nurses and most importantly, patients. During the session we celebrated the positive feedback and looked very closely at the negative comments, deciding what action needed to be taken, who would do this and how. We then the created an information board, which we displayed in our reception area, which highlights patient feedback and how we are addressing the issues raised. We saw this session as the first of many.

We’ve put aside a day in March for business strategy development and after that we’ll have quarterly sessions. All our work so far will be incorporated into next year’s business plan. And we’ve been busy looking into some of the issues raised by patients. We’ve found a supplier of pressure-relieving mattress pads which can be laid on top of our standard pressure-relieving mattresses if patients find them too hard. We’ve been thinking about how to personalise exercise regimes for patients who would rather not exercise in a group – and we’ve begun to explore the idea of setting up an internet café for younger patients or those who may want to stay in touch with the outside world during their stay. As with every aspect of our patient-centred journey, it is early days. The more we do this, the more we’ll streamline and refine our assessment processes. Some things are easy to implement, though.

From now on I’ll be lunching with our patients monthly – as will every other member of the senior management team.

This is something we are all looking forward to.