Complaining about the NHS where will it lead?

When did the NHS decide that threats were better motivators than simple clear encouragement? I have blogged before about the NHS being a marketing-free zone. But recently the messages to the public and patients have become shriller.

Newspapers have been reporting patients barred from primary care practices for complaining. Banned for not using GP services and of course, there are the posters that state in intolerant terms the fate that anyone abusing verbally or otherwise members of staff.

When I see these posters I always wonder what must have happened to tip people over the edge that they would abuse staff, alcohol and drugs are obvious candidates, but perhaps there are other reasons like long waiting times for fearful and vulnerable people. These frustrations may trigger the fight or flight reaction in some leading to a clash. I am not saying that any of these actions by the public and patients should be tolerated against NHS staff, I merely wonder if the NHS is avoiding some issues. It is easier to blame the public then address the underlying issues.

So what do people actually complain about. When I was Director of Customer Relations for NHS England I conducted the first ever research, using the Polecat digital tools, into Feedback on NHS Choices. The results were surprising. Two main themes dominated the feedback, Communications and Professionalism, these 2 segments accounted for 80% of the feedback. The remaining 20% was a long tail of feedback on food (a British obsession), cleaning services, queuing (another obsession) and car parking.

These 2 major segments need unpacking a little:

Communications – the feedback here can refer to poor signage, complicated and repeatedly poorly written communications, late cancellations and even notification of appointments arriving after the date of the appointment

Professionalism – this seems to be a euphemism for rudeness of any type, but it can include incompetence in the eyes of the patient, cultural challenges, just being ignored and a poor bedside manner.

It is likely as Generation X and the Millennial generation show up we will see a more critical and detailed feedback. The challenge for the NHS is to embrace it rather than banning it.

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