Patients Neal Sinclair and Annmarie Lewis with Dr Caroline Sanders (right) who is leading the patient feedback research project

Putting patients at heart of improving NHS services: The DEPEND project

New research will look at future ways to collect and analyse patient feedback to make it more useful for improving NHS services.

Patients have helped to plan the research, which aims to build on the way the health service already uses surveys and other feedback, such as the Friends and Family Test (which asks whether people would recommend using the service to friends and family). It will explore how best to capture feedback at the time services are delivered. The research will make more use of written comments and will explore the value and use of patients’ stories about their experiences.

Two of the patients involved in shaping the research are Neal Sinclair and Annmarie Lewis. Annmarie, who has arthritis and lives in West Didsbury, said: “It’s really important that people who run NHS services listen to those who use them regularly – our experience could make all the difference. Things like continuity of service really matter to patients like me, so doctors and nurses understand how my condition affects me.  I’m pleased this study will look at making better use of what we say and also at making it easier to give our views in a timely way. I think it’s going to be very helpful for patients and staff.”

Neal, who has experience of using mental health services, added: “If people have a bad experience in an area of service, it can put them off getting help when they need it, and this feedback could help change services to make them better. It’s also important to be able to give feedback about good experiences so that good services continue.”

The work is a joint project between The University of Manchester, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research’s Health Service and Delivery Research programme.

Dr Caroline Sanders, who is leading the research, explained that the two-year £500k project will focus on two patient groups and their carers – people with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and people with musculoskeletal conditions, such as arthritis. Both groups tend to use lots of different NHS services, face difficulties in seeing the same staff at appointments and can be at risk of harm when services don’t work well.

Dr Sanders and the research team will work with 80 patients and carers to find out what sort of feedback they would like to give and how (for instance, using mobile phones, digital or written surveys, audio, video) and will discuss with healthcare staff what information would be helpful when they’re making decisions on improving services.

They will also work with computer scientists to see how patient comments and stories can be analysed quickly and effectively through techniques such as text mining, and look at how patients’ views can best be presented to staff alongside other information the NHS collects on quality, safety and symptoms of patients.

The researchers will use what they find to design – again alongside patients and staff – a set of materials to help staff improve the way they collect, analyse and use feedback. These materials will then be tested in different NHS settings: primary care, hospital outpatients, and community mental health services.

Dr Sanders said: “We know that patients and carers give really valuable insight into the NHS services they use and want their knowledge and experience to be taken into account. This research is trying to find the most helpful ways of collecting their views so we have accurate, up-to-date information that we can then analyse and use to improve care.”

The two-year DEPEND (Developing and Enhancing the Usefulness of Patient Experience and Narrative Data) project will start in April 2016.

  • Dr Sanders is pictured above right with patients Neal and Annmarie.