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Q&A: The Friends and Family Test in general practice

Q When do we need to start doing the Friends and Family Test?

NHS England is introducing the Friends and Family Test (FFT) to general practice and community and mental health services by the end of December 2014, and to the rest of NHS funded services by the end of March 2015. The new contract states ‘there will be a new contractual requirement from December 2014 for practices to offer all patients the opportunity to complete the Friends and Family Test and to publish the results’.

NHS England is working with the GPC to agree guidance by October on implementing the friends and family test in general practice, including arrangements for reporting the results nationally.

It is also running a series of pilots with practices and will be sharing the findings from these to inform practices about the guidance that will be agreed with NHS Employers and the GPC.

Come December, there will be one standard question for all practices and one follow-up question.

Q What are the questions in the test?

There will be one standard question for all practices and one follow-up question. The current default question on the FFT is: ‘How likely are you to recommend our practice to friends and family if they needed similar care or treatment?’ The exact wording for general practice is however being considered.

Q How can I use the test to get specific feedback on my practice?

While you are interacting with a patient to ask two standard FFT questions, it isn’t a bad idea to ask another few questions pertaining to your practice and any areas of improvement that you’ve identified. Of course, the point to note is to ask only a ‘few’ additional questions.

Q Does this replace any of the existing complaints procedure at my practice?

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No. Don’t eliminate your existing complaints procedure. The FFT test is a new duty on top of old workload, not instead of it.

Q How can we improve our score?

Don’t ask patients for the responses immediately after an appointment. You are more likely to get a fairer response 1-3 days after the appointment, as patients need time to process the treatment and care received.

Any feedback received, whether good or bad, should be shared at the next practice meeting. It may also be prudent to put a plan into place that involves ‘understanding’ the FFT responses received and identifying any areas of improvement for your practice. 

Q Can we outsource FFT work?

Yes. NHS England says GP practices will be free to employ third parties to help them deliver against the FFT requirements. Contracting an independent third party to undertake the FFT on your practice’s behalf will mean that you don’t have to dedicate precious staff time and patients will be more likely to give one-to-one honest feedback (over the phone) to an objective third party as opposed to practice staff.

Q How can I make sure the test represents views from all my patients?

As all practices will need to ask their patients directly, make sure your test captures responses from patient demographics not only representative of the practice, but also across different patient groups.

Before the test is rolled out, you should consider patients with health, language and physical barriers to filling out paperwork (such as hearing and vision impairments) or people who are too busy to complete the FFT. If a practice’s FFT is only completed by patients who have the time to do so, you are less likely to get a true indication of scores.  

Tom Sheppard is the General Manager at ERS Connect, a third party service for hospitals who want to contract out posing the FFT to patients.