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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
NHS 'customer service' a priority
doctor and patient
Good bedside manner can improve patient satisfaction
The NHS should focus more on customer service in order to improve performance and staff morale, say senior managers.

The NHS Confederation says the health service should follow the example of other organisations, including John Lewis and British Telecom.

Its report comes as a poll shows 93% of the public think it is important for the NHS to focus more on customer services such as friendlier staff.

But the head of Unison warned against viewing patients as customers.

This is not about treating the NHS commercially
NHS Confederation chief executive Dr Gill Morgan

Karen Jennings said: "The concern that I have is the term customer. What we are hearing more and more is the application of business ethos in the NHS. Equating patients to consumers is not useful.

"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.

"It's about how you approach the people you are looking after and that has got nothing to do with being a customer."

She said: "Giving an impression that the NHS is a business or market could encourage the charging of patients for treatments."

Patient satisfaction

The report, Great Expectations, says the key to good customer focus is happy staff and that changes such as easier appointment booking systems, clearer information about treatment and better bedside manner can make all the difference to patient experience.

Speaking at the NHS Confederation's annual conference in London, chief executive Dr Gill Morgan said: "This is not about treating the NHS commercially.

"Customer focus is about doing everything we can to make the patient's experience as pleasant, straightforward and unstressful as possible.

"Getting the best outcomes from the care we give to patients is vital but not sufficient. We need to think about the patient experience as a whole.

"High satisfaction ratings in patient surveys show that NHS providers are already doing well in this area, but there is always more that can be done."

Former Granada boss Sir Gerry Robinson, who is currently filming the follow up to his BBC2 programme 'Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS' said: "I think it happens a lot more in the NHS than people allow for.

"The most important thing for the customer is to get the service happening quickly, when he or she wants it. But this is a worthwhile exercise if it starts to make people think about how they look after patients from the patients' view point."

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