Just 1 in 6 hospitals rate the patient environment as ‘excellent’, annual survey reveals

ONLY one in six hospitals in England rates its patient environment as ‘excellent’, according to the 2011 survey by the Patient Environment Action Team (PEAT).

The annual assessment, now in its 13th year, asks healthcare trusts, both NHS and private, which have more than 10 inpatient beds, to rate their facilities under three non-clinical headings - patient environment, food, and privacy and dignity. Participation is voluntary, but this year all 1,222 eligible NHS hospitals took part, as well as 141 independent providers.

While clinical care is of course paramount for the patient while they are in hospital, their experience from admission to discharge will also be informed by other elements of hospital life, from the condition of the furnishings to the quality of the food

While the survey is based on self assessment by trust members, independent validation is provided through external assessors at a minimum of 15% of hospitals each year. In 2011, this involved random evaluations of 299 premises across the country.

Each provider scores its services on a five-point scale - unacceptable, poor, acceptable, good or excellent

But the results this year reveal that, while the number of providers that recorded the highest score in all three categories was up by 11.8% on last year, just 15.4% thought they were providing the best possible service. The remaining 84.6% believe there is room for improvement.

The statistics show:

  • The percentage of NHS trusts receiving good or excellent ratings for the patient environment increased from 87.4% in 2010 to 92.9%. In the independent sector this was up from 82.9% in 2010 to 87.7% this year
  • The percentage of NHS organisations rated good or excellent for food increased from 95.9% to 98% this year; compared to 73.1% and 78.4% in the private sector
  • In the privacy and dignity category, the percentage of trusts receiving the top two ratings increased from 96.5% to 98.6%; and from 98.7% to 99.3% in the independent sector

Just two poor ratings were recorded - for the patient environment at Great Western Hospital's maternity unit at Bath; and for privacy and dignity at the Brunel Lodge mental health unit on the site of the old Wolborough Hospital in Devon.

For the second year running no facility was assessed as unacceptable in any category.

Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, which put together the survey report, said: "While clinical care is of course paramount for the patient while they are in hospital, their experience from admission to discharge will also be informed by other elements of hospital life, from the condition of the furnishings to the quality of the food. Hospitals are clearly committed to assessing these elements through the PEAT programme and this year's report shows a rise in assessed standards across the board."

One of the hospitals rated excellent across all three categories was Trafford General. Its director of nursing and operations, Morag Olsen, said: "I am absolutely delighted with our ratings in the latest PEAT assessment. We place the utmost importance on the quality of our food, environment and respect for patients' privacy and dignity and our commitment to cleanliness and infection control means we haven't had a single case of MRSA bacteraemia for more than two years."

At the other end of the scale, managers at the two trusts which underperformed said they were working to improve standards.

Our staff have always done a sterling job, but their dedication and commitment has, until now, not been matched by the quality of the physical environment in which they have to work

At Brunel Lodge, services are in the process of being moved to the newly-refurbished Beech Unit. Co-medical director and consultant psychiatrist, Dr David Somerfield, said: "Those of us that have worked in south Devon for many years have waited a long time to have a state-of-the-art facility in which to care for older people with the highest levels of need and most challenging behaviour. Our staff have always done a sterling job, but their dedication and commitment has, until now, not been matched by the quality of the physical environment in which they have to work. The team at Brunel Lodge has been doing a wonderful job, but they have been working in an outdated building which is no longer fit for its purpose. It is also very isolated. The opening of the Beech Unit will enable us to provide high-quality care in a modern, purpose-built environment. It will ensure people's privacy and dignity and has some lovely large outdoor areas, which are extremely important in looking after older people."

Mark Bagnall, director of estates and facilities at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said of its ratings: "Our trust only took over responsibility for the management of the wing at the Royal United Bath Hospital on 1 June this year. The quality of the patient environment is something we are aware of and before we took on management of the maternity service we had been actively discussing ways we would be able to improve this. This is an issue that will take some time to resolve, but now we are responsible for the service, we are committed to finding practical and affordable ways to provide women with a nicer setting in which to give birth."

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