Patient satisfaction in NHS hospitals has improved over a nine-year period but only marginally, according to a longitudinal analysis of inpatient survey data.

The King’s Fund and Picker Institute Europe analysed inpatient survey data for acute trusts from 2005 to 2013. All NHS acute trusts in England have asked patients what they think about their experience of care since 2002, using the annual inpatient survey, in order to monitor and improve care.

Looking at 20 questions from the survey, the analysis showed that national average scores had increased for 14 questions but decreased for six. “While this is change in the right direction, improvements have generally been modest, with changes in average patient scores, up or down, of less than three points for all but three questions,” concluded the authors. 

Improvements have typically been driven by national initiatives and policies to tackle widespread or high-profile problems, for example ward cleanliness, where average scores rose by more than six points, reflecting efforts to eradicate hospital-acquired infections.

On average, patients are less satisfied now with some aspects of care, such as length of wait from admission to hospital to a bed on a ward, and timely discharge from hospital. In addition, the analysis also identified aspects of patient care where performance is low and needs to improve, for example, noise levels at night.

Patients’ ratings of the inter-relational aspects of their care – such as how staff spoke to them, whether they were treated with respect and dignity, and whether they had privacy – were generally more positive than for other aspects of care.

“At a time when the NHS is under increasing financial pressure, it is good news to see that inpatient care has continued to improve in hospitals across the country,” said Veena Raleigh, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund and the report’s author. “However, this improvement has been modest and it’s time for this valuable survey to be used more effectively.

“Policy-makers, commissioners and regulators must also recognise that sustained improvement in the experience of hospital inpatients is unlikely unless the pressures in the wider health and care system ease,” said Raleigh.

The analysis also looked at individual trusts, where specialist trusts generally performed well, while trusts in London had some of the lowest scores.