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  • Writer's pictureMartha Cox

Will NHS financial pressures affect patient experience?

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

A series of increasing financial pressures on the NHS and NHS funded organisations - high energy costs, ongoing costs from covid, increasing use of expensive agency staff to name but a few - means that the NHS is currently facing real and ongoing cuts in terms of funding. Government promises about increased investment are clearly not ringing true. Local NHS leaders are having to make difficult choices about cutting back on patient care or acknowledge that patient waiting times will not reduce any time soon. We have for some time been seeing the impact of this on investment in new technology, diagnostic capacity, crumbling infrastructure and of course patient experience - as anyone who has tried to get an appointment with their GP or turned up to A and E recently will attest to. This is in no way to blame the hardworking workforce who continue to provide a service with compassion, dedication and professionalism - if my personal experience of accompanying family members through NHS services in recent months is anything to go by.

But what will the implications of these latest funding pressures be on patient experience departments? Within healthcare organisations it can already sometimes be really hard to get sufficient funding to cover the engagement elements of the development of a new service or the transformation of an existing service. Patient experience is often seen as an afterthought, a tack-on, something that has to be done to tick a box rather than an integral part of the process. The engagement function is seen as not core and easy to dispense with, despite the fact that statutory healthcare organisations have a legal duty to engage with patients and local communities. This situation is improving - but slowly.

It is a statutory requirement for healthcare organisations to engage with people who use their services - but with very stretched financial envelopes the ability and willingness of the NHS to oversee, monitor and evaluate what is going has the potential to be severely hampered. Will established patient experience departments be at risk? Will co-production projects come to be seen as 'nice to have but not essential' and so are put on the back burner? Locally I know of examples of engagement posts not being filled when staff retire and recruitment to patient experience teams being delayed. There could be other reasons for this, of course, but it's hard not to think that economic pressures must be part of the mix.

I can't offer solutions to the conundrum of resourcing the NHS through the 21st century but what I do know is that well funded and resourced engagement and co-production activities run by well trained and experienced staff alongside people who use services and local communities will inevitably lead to better designed services that function to the satisfaction and wellbeing of staff and local people. This is because both of those groups have been integral to designing how things work and any changes made. Services designed in this manner will actually prove to be more cost effective and cut down on staff absence, raise staff morale and reduce disengagement as they have been designed by people for their use and they are the ones who know best what would work for them.

#co-production #healthcare #patient experience

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