This article has been provided and sponsored by Quality Compliance Systems
Author: Alison Lowerson, General Practice Policy Lead, Quality Compliance Systems
Anyone wishing to highlight the need for up-to-date compliance tools might point to NHS England’s GP Patient Survey 2020, which was released last week (9 July). The study, which measures patient experience over seven different categories and this year was completed by 740,000 patients, made for interesting reading.
With a few exceptions, Quality Compliance Systems (QCS) noted the nine headline findings largely paint a positive picture of patient and GP interaction in England. The report highlights, for instance, that 81.8% of patients who took the survey were pleased with the ‘overall experience of their GP practice’, while 95.3% had ‘confidence and trust’ in the last medical professional they saw.
However, the summary also reveals four areas, which from a patient perspective require improvement. The report found, for instance, that only 18.7% of patients were aware that they ‘could access their medical records online’. Just over 43% knew that they could order prescriptions online and just under half of all respondents ‘were aware that they could book appointments online’.
However, our policy writers identified one major problem with the findings. This had nothing to do with the accuracy or quality of the statistics, nor the content, which was extremely well written. The problem rather, was the number of responses received after lockdown. On page 68 of the study, the report states that only a small percentage (around two percent) of questionnaires were received after the Government imposed restrictions on the UK. Therefore, the results of the survey shed little light on the profound changes brought about during the lockdown period, or provide an accessible template to tackle these myriad challenges in the brave new world that we are living in.
The rise of technology
Take the increasing role of technology in GP practices, for instance. The pandemic has forced GPs to explore new innovative methods to reach, triage and treat patients. Many GP surgeries up and down the country have embraced online video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. This radical shift has not only seen waiting times drop dramatically, but charities including Leg Matters UK say that virtual consultations have helped people manage various conditions such as ulcers in a way that simply wasn’t possible beforehand.
But that is not to say that NHS England’s GP Survey 2020 isn’t useful or informative. It is both. At Quality Compliance Systems (QCS), during the lockdown, it is one of many studies that our team of policy writers have been absorbing. We’ve also disseminated policy changes and evidence-based practice from a range of bodies including NHS England, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care before distilling it into easily digestible policies and procedures, with the distinct aim of supporting practices to improve future patient survey results.
Key QCS resources
While we have produced more than 250 policies and procedures, there are eight key resources, some of which cover issues raised in the NHS England GP survey, that I’d like to focus on here.
First, with the General Medical Services (GMS) contract decreeing that all practices must now be providing online consultations and ensuring the safe transfer of information between GP and patient, QCS has developed the ‘Online Consultations Policy and Procedure’. The policy contains information and guidance to support practices improve patient communication and access. It is particularly relevant for people with mobility issues who find getting to the surgery difficult, those who find being in the surgery distressing, and people with communication needs such as a disability or sensory loss.
Second, while many practices are already making good use of video consultations, it is vitally important that GPs and practice managers understand and address the compliance challenges in utilising such technology. For those who haven’t yet embraced video consultation technology too, our ‘Video Consultations Policy and Procedures’(which is separate to the Online Consultations policy) includes a list of easy-to-follow steps that will help practices embed the technology safely and effectively ahead of April 2021, when it becomes a contractual requirement to do so.
Helping patients and practices adapt to change
Third, with five to six years of real and lasting change condensed into the space of a few months, it is likely that patients will have questions regarding the changing landscape. The question is, how do you engage powerfully and effectively with patients as both a representative group and as individuals? Our ‘Patient and Public Involvement Policy’ and Procedure shows you how.
Looking back at the NHS England GP Patient Survey, one of the key findings was that 18.7% of patients were aware of the fact that they could access medical records online, while 43.7% didn’t realise that they could order online repeat prescriptions. QCS’s Online Access Request Policy and Procedure addresses these issues directly, including booking and cancelling appointments online.
The power of posters
To aid understanding, QCS has produced a series of easy-to-read patient information posters. Practices can share these logo-free posters on their website, across social media channels or simply showcase them on the front door of the surgery. One key observation is that those practices, who’ve built up strong networks with groups, clubs and societies in their local communities, are also sending the posters to them to circulate. This has proved extremely effective.
Of course, there’s little point in embedding new policies and procedures if you cannot measure their effectiveness. With this in mind, QCS has developed three tools, which all practices can use to improve patient experience.
We have created a Covid-19 Reflection Toolkit, which enables practices to assess the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, identify areas of improvement and implement change. Alongside this toolkit, QCS has developed a series of patient surveys, which are designed to help a practice manager, in the first instance, assess patient perception and then continually work on the areas that need to be improved.
Tools to prepare for an inspection
The autumn may seem some way off, but when the CQC resumes inspections in September, it will expect practices to not only demonstrate outstanding compliance but also to show their workings in a period of great and unprecedented change. QCS’s Audit Policy and Procedure and its example audit templates enable a practice manager to systematically assess and evaluate practice performance against the five key questions and key lines of enquiry that underpin them.
Perhaps what this demonstrates most is that in a post-Covid world, it is up-to-date policies, procedures and guidance, coupled with reflective surveillance tools – which only a compliance management system can provide – that really count.