NHS Reset: Accessing appointments in a digital age - what do local people think? | Andrew Goodall

Andrew Goodall

NHS Reset is an NHS Confederation campaign to help shape what the health and care system should look like in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In this blog, Andrew Goodall shares how using digital technology can improve patient experience of hospital and outpatient appointments.

Everything is changing and we are changing with it. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this is now more true than ever. Services have had to change quickly and safely to ensure that we can all get the care and support that we need at the time that we need it. The NHS has changed and adapted quickly to meet the demands of the COVID-19. Can the changes and the speed and flexibility shown be used to shape future services as part of the ‘new normal’ being developed as part of recovery and renewal?

Healthwatch Doncaster has a longstanding positive working relationship with Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (DBTH) and we work together to listen to the views of local people and make changes and improvements to the way in which they can access their appointments.

In 2018, Healthwatch Doncaster spoke to over 1,500 people about why they missed their hospital appointments. We shared the recommendations with DBTH and then agreed to work with them to implement some changes – a new text messaging and patient information portal. There was clear commitment from the trust that the voice of local people would drive improvement and it supported the initiative.

The new text messaging service at DBTH has begun to reduce the number of missed hospital appointments and we have continued to work with the trust to support the provision of new information to help people to attend appointments. A great example of this is the production of a video that shows people how to get to the hospital and their clinic for their appointment. We worked with Doncaster College and supported four of their media students to film, edit and produce the video.

The commitment of Healthwatch Doncaster and DBTH to continue to listen to the views and experiences of local people about their appointments has continued throughout COVID-19.

It’s widely recognised that uptake of digital services has increased rapidly during the pandemic. In response to that, Healthwatch Doncaster has developed a simple online survey to gather feedback on people’s experience of accessing outpatient appointments digitally, including via telephone and video services. We have asked people whether they had a video or telephone appointment, was the quality good enough and what could be done improve the service for other people. DBTH has agreed to send the link to the survey via text messaging and make it available on the patient information portal. We will then write an independent report with recommendations to enable the trust to support the transformation of outpatient appointments post COVID-19.

This project will work because DBTH values the voices of local people and, because it is independent, Healthwatch Doncaster is trusted, which encourages more people to share their stories. These voices influence development and improvement of services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on people, communities and services, but within the darkness there is some light – we all have the opportunity to do things differently and the best way to start making changes and improvement is to listen to the people who are – or should be - accessing the service. There will not always be one solution for everyone but by listening and then acting on that intelligence, changes can be made to improve access for everyone. In Doncaster, the work that we are doing in partnership with DBTH shows how listening can be done and how quickly people’s voices can support change and improvement.

Andrew Goodall is chief operating officer of Healthwatch Doncaster. Follow the organisation on Twitter @HWDoncaster

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