How to get the best out of the NHS in 2024
Lauren Tully shares her top tips on how to get the best out of the NHS, and what to do when you think something is going wrong.
Posted on 19 January 2024
I would like to focus on practical advice on what to do, and how to raise concerns effectively, if you think something is going wrong.
Waiting times for appointments are generally very long, so don’t delay in going to see your GP and asking for a referral. It is better to be on a waiting list with the option to cancel, than not be on be in the system.
In you are already under the care of a hospital, getting an appointment can be difficult but you can ring up the hospital switchboard and ask to be put through to the outpatient team for that specialism.
Make a note of telephone calls – the name of the person you spoke to and when and what they said. Being able to say 'I spoke to x last time and they said...' can help move things along.
Ask for and look on hospital websites for an email address for the team or clinician and then use that to chase (although some hospitals will guard this information and be reluctant to give it).
Include a contact number and your postal address when you email to help avoid issues with incorrect contact details being stored and used.
Similarly, if you are seeking information about a family member who is in hospital, you can ask for a meeting or a telephone call with the consultant who is looking after them. It would be best if the same one or two people make the request and act as a point of contact, as this helps reassure staff that they are not receiving multiple requests from different people.
See if your GP surgery can help chase up any appointments or meetings.
Once you have an appointment:
- Email the clinician beforehand with details of what you want to discuss or what you should remember to tell them. For example your symptoms, when they started and what makes them better or worse, and details of any medications you are taking. Alternatively write down this information and take it with you to maximise the time you have during the appointment.
- Ask all the questions you have including questions about treatment options such as are there other ways to treat my condition, what are the risks, why don’t I need an x-ray or surgery, etcetera.
- Write down what you are told or ask someone to come with you and make notes. You can ask to record the discussion.
- Make sure that by the end of the appointment or meeting you know what should happen next and when, then set a reminder to chase if you don’t hear.
- Ask who to contact if you have any more problems or queries such as if you are not sent your appointment details, or if your symptoms don’t improve in the timescale suggested.
- Ask if there is any written information about the tests or treatment available and ask for copies of all letters written about you to be sent to you.
- Ask for an interpreter if needed.
Unfortunately, things do get missed, so you will get the best out of the NHS if you follow up when things don’t happen in the way or timescale you were told. Perseverance is key.
Easyhealth has written ease-read leaflets that can help you prepare for appointments and understand what you have been advised.
If you have concerns about treatment whilst in hospital, raising them with a senior nurse or doctor and asking for them to be documented in your notes is helpful. You can ask for a meeting and again, preparing for and documenting this is beneficial. If you are struggling, then Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) might be able to help. Again, contacting them in writing provides a useful information trail and should help improve the quality of what you get from them.
Depending on where that gets you - or if your concerns are about primary care (GP, dentists, etcetera) or outpatient care - then it is best to raise them in writing, either by email or on paper. Keep a copy of any correspondence sent.
It is possible to make a formal complaint about care, and all surgeries, hospitals and care providers should have a clear procedure for dealing with complaints. Generally, complaints need to be raised in writing and the investigation process will take months.
Again, there are frequently delays in PALS and complaints teams responding, so setting reminders to follow up can help get you quicker responses.
Sometimes, raising your concerns directly doesn’t help and so you need to speak to a lawyer. Documenting what happened and when will help a lawyer advise you on your options.
Lauren Tully is a senior associate solicitor in the medical negligence department.
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