In our second blog about the work we’re doing on outpatients with NHS England and the Royal College of Physicians, we look at staff education, health inequalities, integrating care, and staffing.

Education and training

In our outpatient survey, nearly two thirds (60%) of respondents, said the most important thing to them during their outpatient experience was staff attitude. This included wanting improvements in staff treating people with respect, dignity, kindness, courtesy and empathy.

The summits recognised staff education and training can spread innovative ways of working, such as remote consultations, group appointments and asynchronous communications (a term we made clear was not accessible! Simply put, it means the opportunity to email or text directly with a consultant or GP and for them to be in communication with each other). It’s vital that trainees are supported to deliver specialist advice and triage, and that new models of care are included in their training. 

Health inequalities

We were pleased to see from the survey that some people with specific needs found reasonable adjustments had been made to make their access easier. But this is not happening for all patients. Respondents experienced issues with language - such as it being inaccessible, medical terminology used they didn’t understand, and inconsistent information during their consultation. 

These issues resulted in confusion and dissatisfaction, as patients had to ring for further information or contact their GP. This left patients feeling the clinician was uninterested and lacking any understanding of the patient perspective.

The summits heard that it was essential to address health inequalities in the outpatients strategy. It is important to understand local data, codesign services with local populations, and recruit staff from diverse groups to help address these inequalities.

Integrated care

More integrated care would lead to a smoother process with fewer delays and good information, which are what survey respondents asked for. One of the key issues for outpatients is an inconsistent approach across NHS trusts. Changing this would ensure patients are fairly treated wherever they live.

Summit participants said prioritising integrated care delivery was important to meet the increasing demand for care - joining up primary, secondary and community care. Integrated care pathways could support personalised care that would meet patient needs and preferences, especially for those with long term conditions and complex care needs. 

Workforce capacity

The Patients Association believes that while the NHS workforce remains at its current levels, patients and staff will continue to suffer. Any progress in making patients partners in their own care and in the design and delivery of services will be limited.

The summits recognised workforce challenges, including capacity. Being better at using the current systems and educating and empowering patients to be responsible in making decisions about their health, were suggested to support workforce capacity. Including carers, third and independent sector support can help with workforce capacity; as can multi-disciplinary team clinics, and tasks being carried out by the most appropriate member of staff.

Our final blog will focus on patient choice, personalised care and whole person care.
Read our first blog in this short series.