88% of patients are happy or very happy with the care they receive in National Health Service (NHS) accident and emergency (A&E) departments, but more needs to be done about pain control and the drug information which they are given at discharge, according to a new survey.

88% of patients told the poll, which was conducted by English watchdog organisation the Healthcare Commission, that the care they had received in A&E was “excellent,” “very good” or “good.” The survey also showed improvements in communication by A&E staff since the Commission conducted similar polls in 2003 and 2004, with 69% of patients now saying that they “definitely” had sufficient time to discuss the problem compared with 62% in 2003, and 76% saying that they were “definitely” listened to by doctors and nurses, up from 73% in 2003.

In addition, 53% told the survey that a doctor or nurse had discussed completely any anxieties or fears they had about their condition or treatment, an increase from 49% in 2003 and 51% in 2004.

But the findings also highlight some key areas of concern. While 59% of respondents to the survey - of just under 50,000 patients over age 16 who had visited an A&E or emergency department during January-March 2008 - said that the staff "definitely" did everything they could to help control pain, a further 27% said they did "to some extent" and 14% said they did not. This shows some progress since 2003 and 2004, but the Commission says further improvement is needed in this area as a whole.

In addition, many respondents said they did not get enough information when they left A&E. 84% who were prescribed new medication before leaving the emergency department said its purpose was fully explained to them, up from 82% in 2003 and 81% in 2004, but only about a third (37%) said they were given a complete explanation of possible side effects of their medication, up from 35% in 2003 and 36% in 2004.

Moreover, almost two thirds (65%) said that a member of staff had told them what danger signals to watch for after they went home, either completely or to some extent. This leaves over a third of people who said they were not told what danger signs to look out for after they have left A&E (35%), the survey reports.

It also showed a decline in the number of patients who felt they were involved as much as they wanted to be in decisions about their care and treatment. Of those who were well enough, 62% said they were definitely involved as much as they wanted to be, down from 64% in 2004 and 63% in 2003. 77% said they were given the right amount of information about their condition or treatment, up from 75% in 2003, while 15% said they did not get enough information and 7% said they were not given any, the same percentages as in 2004.

Commenting on the survey findings, Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker said it was good see that so many patients are so positive about their care, and that these achievements come against a backdrop of significant rises in demand for A&E services. However, she added that patients have also raised important issues, not only about staff helping to control pain and the information they are given on discharge, but also concerning privacy when they book in at reception and access to help when needed.

“This is important feedback that trusts should listen to,” said Ms Walker. “Understanding and responding to experiences of patients is critical in a modern NHS,” she added.

- The Healthcare Commission will be replaced this April by the new Care Quality Commission.