A&E waits shorter, but wards dirtier, say patients

Patients are experiencing shorter waits for emergency treatment and outpatient appointments, but believe hospitals are dirtier, the Healthcare Commission has found.

Two major patient surveys of 140,000 patients, conducted by the Commission, also found that patients want more information regarding their treatment.

The surveys, one of the biggest national tests of patient attitudes, found that 77% of patients reported a stay of less than four hours in an emergency department, compared to 69% in 2003. Outpatients also reported shorter waiting times, with 80% of patients saying that they received appointments within three months – a 5% improvement from the previous year. Outpatients also reported a reduction in waiting times, with just over half (55%) waiting 15 minutes or less to be seen, although 10% of patients still had to wait over an hour.

However, the survey found that patients were showing decreasing satisfaction with the level of cleanliness in hospitals. Under half (45%) of those questioned rated emergency departments as 'very clean' – a 4% decrease from 2003 – while just over half (53%) of outpatients rated the department as 'very clean' – a decrease of 6% from the previous year.

Many patients also believed that they were not receiving enough information about their care. A fifth of outpatients felt they did not receive enough information, while almost half (49%)of A&E patients reported being given any information on potential side effects of new medication they were given – a finding that the Healthcare Commission said was "particularly concerning".

However, 81% of outpatients and 73% of A&E patients reported complete confidence and trust in the doctor or nurse treating them.

Anna Walker, Chief Executive of the Healthcare Commission, said that the surveys were "very encouraging" and added that the reduction in waiting times was "particularly good". She said: "People who are sceptical of the NHS should take note of what patients are actually saying, as it is clear how much they value the services on offer. There is much to celebrate but patients still, and rightly so, expect further improvement in their health service. Patients are sending a very clear message that they want more involvement in decisions on their treatment and that current standards of cleanliness are still not good enough. That must improve.”

Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Paul Burstow, said that the surveys showed the "growing public disquiet" over the government's performance on hospital cleanliness. He said: "It is clear that the NHS still has a long way to go in establishing a zero tolerance culture towards dirty hospitals and hospital infections."

He added: "The survey also reveals that frontline staff have the trust and respect of patients. Ministers should take this as a signal that it is time to stop tying the hands of doctors and nurses in red tape, end the target culture and trust frontline staff to get on with the job of treating patients."

The Healthcare Commission said that the findings of the survey would be used by the commission in future inspections and in the formulation of the trust's star ratings in 2005.


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