Background: England's extensive NHS patient survey programme has not fulfilled government promises of widespread improvements in patients' experiences, and media reports of poor nursing care in NHS hospitals are increasingly common. Impediments to the surveys' impact on the quality of nursing care may include: the fact that they are not ward-specific, so nurses claim "that doesn't happen on my ward"; nurses' scepticism about the relevance of patient feedback to their practice; and lack of prompt communication of results. The surveys' impact could be increased by: conducting ward-specific surveys; returning results to ward staff more quickly; including patients' written comments in reports; and offering nurses an opportunity to discuss the feedback. Very few randomised trials have been conducted to test the effectiveness of patient feedback on quality improvement and there have been few, if any, published trials of ward-specific patient surveys.
Methods: Over two years, postal surveys of recent inpatients were conducted at four-monthly intervals in 18 wards in two NHS Trusts in England. Wards were randomly allocated to Basic Feedback (ward-specific printed patient survey results including patients' written comments sent to nurses by letter); Feedback Plus (in addition to printed results, ward meetings to discuss results and plan improvements) or Control (no active feedback of survey results). Patient survey responses to questions about nursing care were used to compute wards' average Nursing Care Scores at each interval. Nurses' reactions to the patient feedback were recorded.
Results: Conducting ward-level surveys and delivering ward-specific results was feasible. Ward meetings were effective for engaging nurses and challenging scepticism and patients' written comments stimulated interest. 4,236 (47%) patients returned questionnaires. Nursing Care Scores improved more for Feedback Plus than Basic Feedback or Control (difference between Control and Feedback Plus=8.28±7.2 (p=0.02)).
Conclusions: This study provides preliminary evidence that facilitated patient feedback can improve patients' experiences such that a full trial is justified. These findings suggest that merely informing nurses of patient survey results in writing does not stimulate improvements, even if results are disaggregated by ward, but the addition of ward meetings had an important and significant impact.