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What’s the use of positive stories?

Update from Care Opinion

Posted by on

picture of James Munro

This seems to be a good time of year to be talking about the power of stories. And one of the stories I’ve been hearing recently goes something like this:

“Well, the positive stories on Care Opinion are all very nice and everything. But really, we need to hear more of the negative ones.”

Oddly, when I hear this story it is as likely to be coming from a patient/service user as a staff member. Some people (outside health services) seem to feel that if Care Opinion is not sharing enough negative stories, then it is not really “telling the truth”. And some people (inside health services) seem to feel that positive stories can’t contribute anything to the task of improving care.

It’s almost as if people believe that we only learn and improve when things go badly and can make no progress when things go well. But I think that’s a mistaken belief.

So here are a few reasons why I believe that the positive stories on Care Opinion really matter.

First, Care Opinion is citizen-centred, not organisation-centred. It is for people to share the experiences of care that matter to them. If many of those experiences that matter to people are positive ones, then so be it. Listen, and learn what it is that matters, and why.

Second, these stories have a powerful impact in lifting staff morale – and that is very often exactly what the story donor intends. Online feedback is not just data: it is often an intervention, an act of encouragement, support and solidarity with public service staff.

Staff and patients: both have something to give the other.

As a side-effect, this mutuality of care reminds us all that both staff and patients bring their own needs and their own resources to each encounter. Both have something to give the other.

Third, online stories of remarkable care are shared widely and can become a simple but effective way to share good practice across the UK and internationally. This story of extraordinary end of life care, for example, has been read over 50,000 times to date and has prompted new thinking in services elsewhere.

Fourth, one member of staff explained how receiving so much positive feedback from patients had changed her team culture. “We give each other more positive feedback now”, she told me. Another way that staff are learning from patients.

Fifth, for health/care professionals in training, positive stories of multidisciplinary teams in action can provide important insights into the contribution that each profession makes to good care. The potential for such stories to support interprofessional learning is huge.

And finally, let’s remember that as staff use stories of any kind to learn and improve, our goal is that positive experiences will become still more prevalent. It would be perverse to complain about a result which we have all been working to achieve.

So, at this time of year, let’s be grateful to each person who shares their positive story of care. Let’s accept these gifts in the spirit they are given, with open hearts and open minds to the learning and understanding they offer us.

Do you have other examples of how positive stories can be of value? Please share your thoughts in a response below.

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

Hey James, 

Great blog!  I agree wholeheartedly.  Who knew this would happen?!   Earlier this year we asked staff in Scotland who listen to stories on Care Opinion one question:-

"When you receive a positive story about your team how does it make you feel?"

We asked people to equate it, in value terms, to something tangible.  We were attempting to quantifying in pounds, shilling and pence, the impact of positive stories  It was great fun and there were some lovely comments. 

I've uploaded the summary infographic which has remained secret until today! 😂 Happy to try and answer any questions on it if anyone has any.

Here are some more of the comments:-

and then there's this tweet which you know well...

We are going to ask the "critical stories" question too but given that 73% of stories shared about Scottish services are positive we thought we'd start there.


Response from Babs Henderson, Associate Nurse Director, Quality and Care Assurance Team, Children's Hospices Across Scotland on

i Ioved this blog James, it really reminded me about the power of positive feedback and how much we can learn from  excellence.  

Response from Dorothy Armstrong, Nursing Adviser, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman on

Thanks James - this is such a key part of what Care Opinion does. I often hear that staff dont hear the good news stories and of course this is such an importnat part of our learning.

At the Ombudsman many people who are complaining also mention the very positive part of their experiences and staff who "go above and beyond" - and therefore I truly believe we need to more attuned to exploring what's working well and how we can do that more of the time. 

Indeed our human interactions and relationships make all the difference and certainly I am proud of the fantastic work carried out everyday in the NHS 

Response from Pioneer on

Excellent, James.

There are so many good stories, which can be easily overlooked. The trauma and stress of being a patient can alter perception markedly.

When I trained, a long time ago, it was drummed into us how the patient felt his life had gone out of control in the emergency admission scenario  and reassurance should be present in vast quantities.

Awareness of how patients felt, made me realise that near the "going home" stage, some became very anxious that there would be a hiccup with blood results or drips, and their discharge deferred.

To address this anxiety, I started a 'Happy hour' after evening visiting, just for those who were sbout to go home. It took off like a rocket.

Patients who had really only considered the person in the next bed as 'the lady with anaemia found that their children attended the same school. Patients realised they were neighbours, or knew someone's Mum, and it became a much more supportive environment. 

These kind of initiatives which bring laughter and relieve stress, would, I believe, lower the level of negative thinking, and therefore complaints.

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