Demos, The Patient’s Association and the PMA released a report earlier this week: “I love the NHS, but…”:Preventing Needless Harms Caused by Poor Communication in the NHS. It outlines the impact of “chaotic” communication by the NHS, which is leading to “harmful delays to treatment and endangering patient health”.
At Accurx, we are naturally delighted to see the importance of good communication in the NHS being highlighted, and recognition of the growing realisation that failures in communication significantly hinder the ability of staff to deliver great care day in, day out for patients, as well as the NHS’ wider recovery goals.
Demos ran research with 2,000 members of the public in October 2023, and found that more than half (55%) said they had experienced poor communication from the NHS in the past five years.
Their research also found that:
- 18% of the public have had their care or the care of an immediate family member disrupted because they were referred to the wrong service
- Over a quarter (26%) said they or a close family member have been inconvenienced because they were given the date and time of an appointment without enough notice
- Half said poor communication made them stressed and anxious, and four in ten said it made them feel angry
- Bad communication caused more than a quarter to feel concerned that staff time and NHS money were being wasted
This final finding about wasting staff time is one that resonates strongly with what we’re trying to do at Accurx. The past 75 years of the NHS has seen a shift in care being delivered predominantly by individuals, to teams. These teams are often multidisciplinary and work across care settings. Driven by the growing scale and specialisation of the workforce, frontline staff now spend most of their day on activities such as referrals, care coordination and information sharing, i.e. communicating with each other and patients.
But this communication is happening in an antiquated way, through the post, pagers and phone calls. Even when digital communication has been adopted, it is rarely fit for purpose and generally mirrors what used to be analogue.
When communication in the NHS doesn’t happen quickly and efficiently, at best staff lose time and efficiency drops, and at worst, as this report finds, patients come to harm.
At Accurx, we echo Demos’ call to action, and want to see policymakers apply a concerted effort to improve communication across the system, which starts with ensuring that staff have a way to reach their colleagues in every care setting, and their patients. This will unlock more efficiency, increase collaboration, improve staff morale and patient experience.
We also agree with the report's recommendation that measuring the experience of patients communicating with NHS services should be national policy. It also recognises the central role that the NHS App should play for patients, but communication is a two-way process, and staff are still in desperate need of better ways to provide patients with a joined-up experience across settings.