The notion that only the middle classes want to know how their local health practices are performing has been turned on its head by a new poll for think-tank Policy Exchange, which found that the demand for such information is actually stronger for lower-income groups.

The poll, which involved a telephone interview with 1,004 adults in the UK, also revealed that 59% of respondents believe it is easy to find out how their local health service performs but that the information provided is “very patchy.” Furthermore, 79% said they want a 'scorecard' outlining their local surgery/hospital’s performance.

Policy Exchange Research Director Gavin Lockheart told PharmaTimes UK News that the results show that, despite attempts to improve the quality of information on service provision, “the public – especially the low-income groups – are feeling frustrated because they are unable to understand whether or not their general practice is performing well.”

“If public services are to be improved through choice, as the Government hopes, the publication of performance data will be insufficient to encourage patients to become active ‘consumers’,” he said.

A national standard

According to the poll, the public isn’t interested in league tables for surgery performance; by a 2:1 margin (57% versus 28%) patients requested information that pits healthcare providers against a national standard and not other providers, so that they can “challenge of seek reassurance from their doctors,” Policy Exchange said.

When asked whether this kind of performance comparisons could lead to an exodus of patients from those practices perceived to be performing under par, Gavin stressed it is “less likely that the information will be used to change surgeries, but more to confront doctors [about performance], and we’d welcome that,” as this would likely help drive up the quality of services, he explained.

Commenting on the poll’s findings, Nigel Edwards, Head of Policy at the NHS Confederation, said they show that the public “are very interested in the performance of their health service,” but he went on say that there is “a major challenge to be meaningful: assessments of services need to take into account many different factors. This makes presenting the easy-to-understand and manageable information the public prefer very difficult. We have much to learn about the best way of doing this.”

Choices, choices

Presenting health information to the public in an understandable format is certainly something the Government has already turned its attention to. Sometime this month should see the launch of the new NHS Choices website, which has been created to gather all kinds of health information into one trusted and easy-to-understand source, accessible to both patients and healthcare providers.