Customer care is a major priority in today’s NHS – Darzi’s Next Stage Review placed the patient at the centre of healthcare, with a renewed focus on patient choice and experience.
It was with this in mind that the judges approached the Customer Care Award, part of this year’s Management in Practice Awards. And Halton and St Helen’s Primary Care Trust’s Customer Care Unit Project seemed to epitomise this ethos, and was a natural choice for the final shortlist.
Following the reconfiguration of Halton and St Helen’s Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in October 2006, and a rigorous Fit for Purpose assessment in 2007, the new organisation decided to invest in a single point of contact for patients and the public that would incorporate the PALS, complaints and PPI functions of the organisation.
This included providing a freephone 0800 number that could be accessed by the patient and the general public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Other objectives included:
- To create a single central point of contact to ensure consistency in approach to patient queries/concerns.
- To give the organisation the opportunity to understand at a glance the issues and concerns of patients and public and to respond in a systematic and professional manner.
- To provide an easily accessed service that provides all members of the community with an equal opportunity to have their voice heard regardless.
- To provide a highly professional systematic service that gives commissioners and patients a consistent clear advice guidance and support mechanism.
- To provide PCT staff and contractors, ie, GPs and dentists with a single point of contact if they have issues, concerns and advice on how to deal in an effective manner with the public.
- To provide the organisation with an overview of the patient experience/expectation so it might respond in a proactive manner to issues raised, ie, commission extra activity when/where necessary.
One database replaced the previous systems used by the PALS and complaints services from the legacy PCTs. This database recorded all contacts to the unit and monitors concerns, compliments and complaints.
All staff were trained to log issues, concerns and complaints onto the database, giving the organisation the ability to identify patterns/trends. Complaints relating to PCT-provided services were investigated with the staff concerned and handled appropriately in accordance with the NHS Complaints Regulations; and complaints about independent contractors and other trusts were passed to the relevant organisations for investigation.
A number of other positive interventions also took place:
- Signage was improved for patients who were having problems in accessing the relevant services.
- Issues relating to poor customer service resulted in reception staff at several sites taking up the opportunity to obtain vocational qualifications in customer care.
- Concerns raised about communication following the treatment of a young patient resulted in a review of current practice.
- A complaint about services in one part of the borough led to a review of current provision and an improvement in the number of clinics offering specific services that patients said they most wanted/needed.
- Patients and the public contributed to the decision-making process of the design and shape of a new state-of-the-art hospital with the St Helen’s borough.
- In April 2007, a new health centre in St Helen’s borough opened its doors to the public. A group of patients and local residents had been involved with the plans for the new building and the services housed within it. For instance, the group had asked for a stroke facility to be included in the new building, and as a result the PCT worked closely with the local Tenants and Residents Association to develop a new stroke support group that meets weekly in the new building.
The Customer Care Unit has proved a huge success and is recognised by contractors and staff as being a portal of patient information which they can access when and where appropriate, and many use it to inform patients of changes to services that might directly affect the care they receive.
According to Angela Green, Head of Communications and Involvement at Halton and St Helen’s PCT, the CCU has provided the organisation with a wealth of vital information about patient experience of services that it commissions from a total of more than 530 providers. “It is already seen as a vital source of information for contractors,” she commented.
She continued: “It is anticipated that in the future even more reviews will result from the information the unit provides, so improving the experience of those who use our services, the experience of those who may use our services in the future, and the overall health and wellbeing of the communities we serve in Halton and St Helens.”