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Telling Stories

Update from NHS Highland

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picture of Maimie Thompson

Telling Stories

Patient Opinion works.  It works because it enables people to tell their stories. And we all relate to stories. We all like to share and compare stories.    


There is no question that social media sites such as Patient Opinion are helping the NHS to have much more open conversations. Social media channels are making it easier to make what people are saying about the NHS - and how the NHS is responding to those comments – more visible. Simply trotting out a stock response on Patient Opinion will be evident to all. If you are going to embrace Patient Opinion then you need to respond like it matters. Because people’s  feelings  and experiences do matter. They matter a lot.


Take Feed-Back Seriously

NHS Highland takes all feed-back very seriously and it’s great that there are now more ways for people to get in touch.  Senior colleagues in NHS Highland receive automatic alerts and respond including our Chief Executive and Director of Nursing. We work in an open plan office and together we will discuss postings and agree on any actions. We also have strong backing and support from the Non Executive Board Members who also regularly look at postings and comment on responses.  


When a posting comes in we try to imagine the person being in front of us and think about how we can best connect with the story teller. It’s the start of a conversation but one which the patient controls. I like that.


We make the assumption that what has been posted is true. There is something about embracing the spirit of Patient Opinion that means that you have to be an advocate, and that means you have to trust the voice. That might seem an obvious and easy assumption to make.  But coming to that view is actually quite complex and the rationale needs to be explained to staff if they are to buy into it. It’s also another reason why having such senior backing is so positive and is helping to influence the culture.  


It’s been interesting to reflect on some of the varying internal responses when we share a posting. If it is a really positive posting – this gets greeted warmly and with rapid circulation.   If it’s a critical posting, however,   there are a few (albeit a minority) who grumble that the posting is anonymous and a kind of “it’s not fair” feeling purveys.  Yet with some gentle encouragement we have found that it’s always possible to help everyone take the feed-back seriously and reflect on how we can improve. There are all sorts of reasons why people feed-back anonymously and we need to respect that and deal with it in a mature and professional manner.


Incidentally, nobody seems troubled by anonymity when the postings are positive! 


The beauty of patient stories are that they often point to an individual act of awfulness or excellence that would otherwise have gone unnoticed or reported. And more than that, they often point out things that can’t be easily counted or measured using conventional methods.


But one of the conundrums is we don’t how representative a story is. And because of that we don’t know what else it might signify.  That should not be of any concern to the person making the posting – their experience is their experience – nor to the response that is made – nor indeed to ‘Patient Opinion’.  But it should matter to the service provider especially in terms of knowing where to focus improvements and where the culture shift is really required.  


Stories AND Data

So for me it’s about stories AND data. And that’s a subject I have been recently discussing with Neil Pettinger.  You can read Neil’s thoughts here


Wouldn’t it be something if we got more people telling us their story and we knew with confidence how representative their story was?


Finally I want to end the year on another kind of a story which I hope will help you bring in the New Year with a smile.  Here is a link to film we made with 9 year old Jack, his pal and his mum telling their story about Jack’s diabetes and  starting out with an insulin pump. Jack says:

"I'd recommend the pump. It's a lot easier than injections. It starts a little bit hard but you quickly learn and it makes it a whole lot easier. I'd never go back to injections."

And we have found that by sharing Jack’s story (plus others)  we have been able to encourage more young people to think about  the option of an insulin pump. 

Powerful stories changing lives.


Happy New Year from all @NSSHighland  @nhshmt

Response from Gina Alexander, Director, Care Opinion Scotland, Care Opinion on

Hi Maimie

Good to see you trying on the Patient Opinion blog for size!    And couldn't agree with you more that it would be great to see more folks telling their story, whatever, that is rather than measuring "success" on the opposite, eg "we only have x complaints".

Love Jack's story too and recall tweeting about it when I first saw it.

All the best when it comes.


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