Two practice managers reflect on implementing friends and family tests

Friends and family tests were rolled out to GP practices from December 2014, amid concerns from many senior GPs that they were a political gimmick unlikely to improve the quality of primary care. These concerns have yet to be fully allayed, but two practice managers have spoken out about why they are backing the tests - read their accounts below to find out why.

Springhead Medical Centre: FFT champions have helped gather 300 responses a month
Springhead Medical Centre: FFT champions have helped gather 300 responses a month

This week, NHS England revealed that friends and family tests (FFTs) in GP practices had passed a significant milestone - with more than 1m pieces of feedback received. GPonline reported earlier this year that the first data published on findings from the tests showed that 90% of responses were positive. Below, two practice managers share their experiences of the tests.

Springhead Medical Centre, Kingston-upon-Hull

'The FFT makes it much easier for us to engage with our patients,' says practice manager Robert Thompson. 'We have a patient participation group and we have sent out annual surveys for patients and electronic surveys, but as the FFT is readily available to hand out in print form, it saves us time and it’s also a free way to boost engagement.'

The practice receives about 300 responses a month and has found it easier to convince patients to take part than it had done with previous feedback initiatives.

'We’ve found that when we create questionnaires about our services ourselves, patients are reluctant to fill them in as they are unfamiliar. It seems the FFT is more accepted and patients seem more willing to give their comments,' Mr Thompson says.

Springhead has identified 'FFT champion receptionists' to encourage patients to take part, but believes the effort involved in sorting through hundreds of free-text responses is worthwhile.

'All of the staff at the practice are faced with time pressures so it’s so useful to have a questionnaire that is quick and easy to use. It takes me an afternoon or a morning a month to evaluate at all the results, but it’s worth that investment of time to have feedback from 200 to 300 patients each month,' says Mr Thompson.

The practice used the chance to add an optional second question to consult on a proposed new building that could add podiatry, optometry, health visiting and a pharmacy services to the range of care it offers to its 15,500 patients.

'The forms with the additional question about a new building were handed out during January, with a total of 283 questionnaires completed. We were very happy to receive overwhelming support through the FFT for our bid to secure new premises,' says Mr Thompson.

"We also received some interesting feedback asking that we did not lose our personal touch if we moved to new modern purpose-built premises. Many people commented on how new GP premises are often impersonal and confusing if too big. There were also requests for things we had not considered – bigger and secure pram park facilities, a drinks machine and a plea to remain in the area on a good bus route.'

The practice plans to use a second question to gain patient views on other issues. Mr Thompson added: 'We’ve found that the FFT has given practice staff a morale boost as it’s been great to see positive feedback from patients. Our practice partners will send around "well done" emails to staff and we’ll also promote this feedback on Twitter and on our website, and it’s great to have that extra buzz.'

Westoe Surgery, Stanhope Parade Health Centre, South Shields

Practice manager Emma Graham says: 'We are a single-handed GP practice with a patient population of around 3,000. Staff felt they already have a huge workload so adding to this by implementing the FFT was not welcome initially. They were also afraid of the criticism they might get from patients.

'However, we’ve had so much positive feedback through the FFT that staff needn’t have worried. Everyone’s been overwhelmed with the feedback and how well staff are thought of by our patients.

'Our practice staff really do go the extra mile. For example, if a patient can’t get an urgent appointment, our staff won’t just tell a patient to keep on calling; they’ll take down their number and actively try to help them.

'It’s great to have these things recognised, not just by me, but by initiatives like the FFT and have that seen by NHS England. Our staff definitely feel reassured by the feedback, and when you’re bogged down in day-to-day tasks it’s nice to know your work is making a difference.'

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