It’s good to talk: Proactive patient engagement helps resolve concerns and improve services

The PALS Outreach service at Macclesfield District General Hospital began in 2014 and is unusual among UK hospitals. It involves staff from the Customer Care Team, who were previously mostly office-based, going out to hospital wards and departments to speak with patients, relatives and carers about their experiences.

This initiative is done in collaboration with clinical staff, to ensure the team do not visit patients for whom it would not be appropriate, such as those who are very unwell or recovering from an operation. This proactive approach offers those using services the opportunity to informally raise concerns they may have about their care or share more general feedback.

The team take ‘real time action’ with clinical staff to address issues identified or they may pass on positive  feedback to staff and their managers. Where appropriate the team will take action themselves or will seek other outcomes. The PALS team find this outreach approach very rewarding and it has fostered closer working relationships with clinical teams.

Ward staff have given the scheme their seal of approval and the feedback from patients and relatives about the care provided is positive, with one staff member noting:

“The scheme is very good – the patients like it, the staff like it and it’s rewarding for us to do. The vast majority of feedback is very positive which is great to hear and nice for us to pass on to the ward staff.”

Through this scheme, concerns are addressed quickly and at an earlier stage, minimising the inconvenience to patients. In addition, responding to feedback in this way may prevent unresolved concerns developing into formal complaints which are time-consuming for the trust to investigate do not address matters as they are occurring.

Since this initiative was introduced in 2014, the number of formal complaints the trust received has reduced by 32% (64 complaints) from 198 in 2013 to 134 in 2018. The trust views the embedding of PALS outreach to have contributed to this, with the further benefit of raising ward staff confidence to engage and seek out feedback.

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More good practice in complaint handling:

This case summary is also featured in the Making Complaints Count: Supporting complaints handling in the NHS report.