The NHS needs to focus on customer service in order to improve performance, quality of care and staff morale, say senior managers in the NHS. The NHS Confederation, says the health service, should follow the example of other organisations, including the much admired John Lewis Group in the art of customer service.
However, this view has proved to be controversial in some quarters, with Unison voicing concerns and warning against the dangers of viewing patients as customers. “When you come into the health service you are extremely vulnerable. You rely on the expertise and the knowledge and skills of the staff that are going to deliver that service”. [Unison spokesperson speaking to the BBC.]
Recent high profile instances have thrown a spotlight on the need for the NHS to address perceived poor quality customer care and the need to train front line staff in best practise across the board. This is definitely gaining momentum. A poll shows 93% of the public think it is important for the NHS to focus more on customer services, such as friendlier staff.
It is widely acknowledged among NHS management that, with the right training, front line staff can make dramatic improvements by simply advocating and reinforcing basic best practise in dealing with the general public and establishing care in the forefront of NHS visible values. What is frustrating for many NHS managers is the knowledge that a poor experience at the front desk can damage the patients and their families’ perception of the overall quality of care provided, even when the clinical procedure went well and treatment had a positive outcome. In an age where perception is all and the media are hungry for any bad news, stories regarding the NHS, the customer / patient experience, must be improved if the NHS is to regain its former status and credibility with the general public.
The NHS next stage review states the good news for NHS management; that by working with your staff in this area, you would be aligning with 5 of the 6 principles for change outlined in the NHS white paper “Customer Service in the NHS making patient care the heart of everything”
The NHS Next Stage Review document outlines these as follows:
- focused on quality
- Patient centred
- valuing people
- promoting life‐long learning
Focused on quality: Education and training pathways must reflect both what clinicians expect and what is expected of them across the range of different providers. Quality‐focused means being clear about the roles of professionals and then ensuring structured training that offers the appropriate breadth and depth of knowledge and experience. Furthermore, they must support working with partners, such as social care.
Patient centred: The skills for listening, understanding and responding to the needs of individual patients and supporting them to manage their health in a manner that is respectful of diversity and difference must, wherever possible, be incorporated into education and training programmes and clinical practice.
Flexible: Healthcare is constantly in a state of development and change with increasing emphasis on health promotion, well‐being and disease prevention and shifting patterns of care.
Training has been identified as key in achieving the improvement in customer service, and ingraining it into the NHS culture moving forward. Catalyst have been delivering effective hands on training to NHS staff in customer service for many years now, and, and In our experience, effective training needs to be designed around and to include the frontline and clinical staff themselves. It should equally Include case study scenarios which relate directly to the personal own experience of staff rather than drawing on examples from the private sector, which can alienate NHS staff and make the training appear too theoretical. Dynamic workshop based training delivered in 90 minute sessions can provide a cost and time effective solution and has a dramatic impact on front line staff behaviour in a relatively short period of time.
Catalyst are running a series of topical workshop based seminars which tackle the importance of customer service and change in the NHS, and explore and discuss the most effective management tools and training courses available in conjunction with the ILM and City & Guilds. For further information on these and how Catalyst Learning & Development may be able to assist your organisation improve your customer service, please contact Richard Ayres Director of NHS services at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org