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At the heart of general practice since 1960

A rather blurred picture

The results of Phil's annual patient survey are in – and make somewhat confusing reading

The results of Phil's annual patient survey are in – and make somewhat confusing reading

The results of our annual patient survey are in. We've had them analysed and assessed and then presented at our primary care team meeting. Some 250 questionnaires were dished out and now we can see what the patients think of us.

It was an odd meeting with lots of thoughtful head-scratching. It appears that our patients like us, on the whole, and we scored better this year than last in almost every category. But some of the answers caused us pause for thought.

To the question 'How often can you see your usual doctor?', three patients ticked 'Never'. Now hang on just a cotton-picking minute. How on earth can someone you are never allowed to consult with be described as your 'usual' doctor? We mused on this before deciding the three patients in question were bloody idiots and moving on.

'How many times have you visited the doctor in the past 12 months?' Sixteen patients had the brass neck to tick the box marked 'None' – this while sitting in our waiting room just after emerging from a consulting room. We know from research that patients tend not to remember very much about a GP consultation when questioned afterwards, but surely they must remember having seen a doctor within the past five minutes. Call me Mr Cynical, but I think this all casts a doubtful shadow over the whole exercise.

I suspect the majority of patients who appreciate what we do will tick the boxes they think we want them to tick, and the minority of punters who don't get what they want from us will malevolently tick the boxes they think will damage us most. Either way, we are not gettinga truthful or accurate picture.

Take the question that asks how long the punter has to wait before being seen. Only 4 per cent claim they have to wait 20 minutes or more, and I know for a fact this is a damned lie, because I'm responsible for more delay than that on my own. Towards the end of my surgery I am always at least 30 minutes behind schedule. Presumably my faithful regulars, who keep coming back despite the fact they must know I'm going to cool their heels for anything up to an hour, think it's not only worth it but also worth lying about on the questionnaire.

I find this humbling, but it also makes me think the entire survey is a complete bloody waste of time and effort. When asked 'What additional hours would you like the practice to open?', 10 ticked 'Mornings' despite the fact we are open every morning from 8am. Five would like us to open the doors at lunchtime too. We can't open them any more than they already are without taking them off the hinges.

What's going through their minds? And what about the 36 patients who claimed their 'ability to keep healthy' after their visit was less than before? The mind boggles. Is somebody tripping them up on the way out? I'm not going to beat myself up over it. The overall satisfaction rate appears to be just under 90 per cent, and maybe that's the only figure I should worry about. The survey is a flawed instrument.

Having said that, I would very much like to see the results if the same tool were applied to our politicians.


Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland and MJA Columnist of the Year

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