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A changing government but the focus needs to remain on person centred care

For months, opinion polls and analysts have suggested that another coalition government would be the near inevitable outcome of the 2015 UK general election. Instead, the ballot boxes have delivered a major surprise: an outright Conservative majority at the House of Commons.

For those in the healthcare sector, attention immediately turns to the health and social care policy proposals of the new government. One of the big challenges will be improving healthcare quality, specifically the patient experience and those aspects related to communication, involvement and coordination, as highlighted in our recent infographic.

In recent years, the concept of “person centred care” has gained considerable momentum at policy and political level.  The Conservatives themselves campaigned on the slogan “No decision about me without me” – popularised by Harvey Picker – during the 2010 General Election. In the last Parliament, initiatives focusing on patient experience included the launch of the Friends and Family Test, aimed at increasing the profile of patient feedback within the NHS.  Whilst this has become valuable as a way of gathering patient comments and targeting local improvement, the Test has proven to be an unreliable tool for comparison between trusts, and national surveys have shown that there remains substantial scope for improvement on patient involvement in health services.

Another feature of the previous parliament was a laudable focus on measures to promote whole person care and mental health – such as the “No health without mental health” strategy launched early in Parliament.  However, this was offset by pressures on mental health funding and on welfare benefits for many users.

From today, the recent era of coalition comes to an end.  For the next five years, what is the new Conservative majority proposing to do to improve patient experience of care?

Based on the Conservative manifesto, we can expect a continued focus on making the NHS more person centred. For instance, the Conservatives reiterate their commitment to “patient-centred care”. Specific attention is paid to increasing funding, and improving access to and integration of services – which are, of course, closely intertwined issues. The Conservatives have committed to meeting the Steven’s challenge from the Five Year Forward View regarding the extra £8bn of funding for NHS by 2020. Secondly, their manifesto strongly supports the establishment of a 12 hours per day, seven days per week, access to healthcare services, to be delivered via big increase in numbers of GPs and nurses. Finally, it’s worth noticing an effort for improving mental health care by increasing funding and enforcing new access and waiting time standards.

Will these planned policy actions improve people’s experiences care?  Only time will tell. But a new baseline will be set on the 21st of May, when the 2014 NHS Inpatient Survey will be published and the experience of tens of thousands of patients scrutinized.  Should this survey continue to highlight room for improvement regarding communication, involvement, and coordination – three of the areas of care most important to patients and their families – then we urge the government to focus on identifying new action for improving these crucial aspects of patient care.

View our infographic highlighting the key patient experience challenges ahead, here

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