New figures show wide national variation in patient satisfaction with hospital care, but promising progress reducing waiting times for diagnostic tests.

The Healthcare Commission’s fifth annual survey of 76,000 patients in the 165 NHS hospital and specialist trusts between October and December 2007 found significant variation between the proportion of patients describing their care as "excellent" between the best-perfoming and worst-performing NHS hospital trusts.
Seventy-seven per cent of patients rated their care as "excellent" in the best-performing trust. However, just 24% did in the lowest performing. The average was 42% (a small increase from the figure of 41% in 2006). Overall, 92% said that the care they received could be classified across “good, very good or excellent”.

Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker noted: "The Government has made absolutely plain that it wants the NHS to listen to the views of patients and respond to their concerns. That is why this survey is so important. It gives the most comprehensive picture available of how patients feel about NHS hospitals. And importantly, it allows comparisons between trusts across the country.

"Overall, it's encouraging that a steadily increasing percentage of patients say care is 'excellent'. It’s good to see advances on issues like the quality of food, waiting times, and team working between doctors and nurses. But the survey also shows that in some hospitals the NHS is struggling to deliver on some of the basics of hospital care."

Cleaning remains an issue
The numbers of patients who described their wards or rooms as “very clean” also showed a slight decline over the last five years to 53% (identical to the 2006 finding). In 2002, that figure was 56%. This perception of declining performance was mirrored in comments on cleanliness of toilets and bathrooms: the percentage of respondents who judged toilets and bathrooms to be “very clean” had fallen from 51% in 2002 to 47% in 2007, the same as in 2006. The Government’s controversial ‘deep clean’ of hospitals was under way during the period of the survey, although a few trusts still struggled to meet the 1 April 2008 deadline for completion.

25% of patients reported having shared a sleeping area with patients of the opposite sex when first admitted - but in some trusts, this rose to just under 50%.

Diagnostics going the right way
In an encouraging sign for the Government’s policy to have all patients go from referral to treatment within 18 weeks by the end of this year, Department of Health figures showed a decline in waiting times for diagnostic tests such as MRI and CT scans, audiology and gastrointestinal function tests.

Key diagnostic waiting times have fallen by 97% in two years, according to DH statistics. The latest monthly figures show that the number of people waiting for diagnosis for over six weeks at the end of March was 12,900 (just over 3% of the total number of waits). This compares to 243,000 in March last year and 404,000 in April 2006, when the DH began collecting this data.

Care Services Minister, Ivan Lewis said: "Two years ago, over 100,000 patients waited more than six weeks for a hearing test, and of these over 30,000 patients waited more than a year. Now the vast majority of patients receive their test within six weeks, and average waits are lower still."