A survey of more than 69,000 National Health Service patients has found that, while improvements in some areas, such as cleanliness, have been made, progress in other aspects has been disappointing.

The 2009 NHS Inpatient Survey, carried out by Picker for the Care Quality Commission, independent regulator of health and adult social care in England, found that 64% of respondents considered their hospital room to be ‘very clean’, up 4% from the prior year and from 56% in 2002.

In addition, improvements were also observed in the number of patients being put into single sex wards, with 21% of those admitted as emergency cases initially being placed in mixed-sex accommodation compared with 29% in the prior year.

A greater proportion of patients also said that they waited no more than a month to be admitted to hospital for a planned admission, that the teamwork between doctors and nurses was ‘excellent’, and that they ‘definitely’ felt involved in decisions about their discharge.

However, the findings indicate that far from any improvement in the provision of medicines information, there have been year-on-year increases in the number of patients (9% in 2009) who felt this was lacking. In addition, 45% of patients said they had not been given enough information on potential side effects, up 1% from 2008.

Furthermore, a smaller proportion of patients said that their questions were answered by nurses in a way they could understand, suggesting that communication between patients and staff is slipping, and less said that staff ‘definitely’ did enough to control pain.

“Infection control and mixed-sex accommodation have been a big concern for patients, so it’s encouraging to see the substantial improvements in these areas,” commented Cynthia Bower, CQC’s chief executive, but “there are also some persistent problems that the NHS is struggling to address”.

“It is unacceptable that almost 50% of patients did not have the potential effects of medicine properly explained to them”, she said, and added it was time for the NHS to tackle the issue – and others highlighted by the survey’s findings - head on.

On the plus side, 79% of patients rated the care they received under the NHS as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’, compared to 74% back in 2002.