by Mike Bell, Public Involvement Facilitator, May 2019

I recently received an email inviting me to an event at Bristol City Hall entitled ‘Thinking big about online feedback’. It was one of those emails that had ‘cascaded’ through various channels and originated from an organisation I’d never heard of called Care Opinion.

Online platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and the recently launched hyvr all offer members of the public a chance to have their say about health and care in the UK. Within our public involvement team at People in Health West of England, we’ve debated the usefulness and effectiveness of these on many occasions. So, as City Hall is only a five minute walk from my desk and Care Opinion were offering refreshments I thought I’d go take a look.

Dazzling statistics

The first speaker was the CEO of Care Opinion, James Munro who you would expect to be enthusiastic, and he was. Dazzling us with statistics about numbers of users and success stories: over 343,000 stories told, over 9,600 staff listening, 100,000 visits every month with stories on Care Opinion viewed over 83 million times. Fifty or more trusts reporting a better than 95% response rate and, more importantly, the changes made to services as a result of people’s stories. The cynic in me was wondering about James’ maths by this point.

James was followed by the Director of Patient Centred Care (you might think of this as Complaints, PALS or Patient Experience) at Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust who was equally enthusiastic.  She said that, despite the fears of some staff about the potential for a barrage of complaints, most stories (about 67%) have been positive. Additionally, she added, the negative stories can be responded to quickly, by the most appropriate member of staff which means they rarely become “formal complaints” and everyone is happy.

Next was a lay board member of a London GP confederation made up of 43 surgeries who told a similar success story and by now, members of the audience representing patient experience teams in other trusts began joining in with more praise for Care Opinion.

This was the point where I surreptitiously took out my phone and Googled “Care Opinion” under the table. Once on the Care Opinion website I randomly searched “knee replacement surgery” and found hundreds of stories.  I was able to see at a glance which had been read and which hadn’t, as well as follow any responses by the various trusts.  I could also see where changes had indeed been made to services and where stories had been used as training tools. It seems some of the praise was justified, although there were stories about poor experiences which had neither been read nor responded to.

So, this is how it works

Go to the Care Opinion website (no need to log in) and tell your story about your health and care experience. Care Opinion then moderate it (to make sure it’s anonymous and doesn’t breach their guidelines). They then forward it to the relevant care staff so they can hear what you think. They may also pass the story to Healthwatch or NHS England if they think it’s something they need to hear about. If it’s positive, staff can share the story so their colleagues know they are doing things right. If it’s negative they can respond via the website which, in some cases, may lead to a change in the way things are done.

Someone once said “the greatest barrier to communication is the illusion that it has been achieved” and we see that all too often these days. Where once you would write a letter and hope for a reply within two or three weeks, we now expect immediate responses to texts, emails, WhatsApp messages and Tweets and crikey do we get angry when we don’t get it.

There are clearly examples of stories, good and bad, on Care Opinion that haven’t been responded to and I believe one or two trusts never respond (though you have to wonder why). However, there are plenty of examples on their website where real communication has certainly been achieved and where patients appear satisfied their voice has been listened to.

If you haven’t already heard of Care Opinion and you have a story, good or bad, about the health and care system, I suggest you give it a go.