Launch of the National Patient Experience Survey by Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD

*check Against Delivery*

Good morning.

It is a pleasure to be with all of you this morning in what I think is a most appropriate location for the launch of Ireland’s first ever National Patient Experience Survey.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to be involved in what has the potential to become one of the most important innovations in the way we think about our health services.

I would firstly like to thank out hosts, the Mater Hospital, for facilitating us this morning, and to Sheila O’Malley of HIQA, and Brigid Doherty of Patient Focus, for joining us today.

I would also especially like to extend my thanks to Tony O’Brien, to Phelim Quinn and to the National Patient Safety Office of my own Department, for the collaborative effort that has allowed us to get to the point where we are able to undertake this exercise. I think the fact that HIQA, the HSE and my own Department are working so closely together on this project underlines how important it is; all of us – the policy makers, the regulators and the people who actually deliver health services are committed in a very serious way to making this work.

I would also be remiss if I did not thank the managers of our hospitals, and the CEOs of the Hospital Groups, for the strong and active support, and leadership, which they have given in relation to this issue.

As you are all aware, the Irish Health Service is one of the highest priorities for this Government. My Oireachtas colleagues are also prioritising the health service, and last year established a Committee on the Future of Healthcare to consider how we might approach the provision of health over the next 10 years. The report of that Committee is expected soon.

Those of us in this room are all too aware of when and where things have gone wrong in past years. There are a range of issues that have to be addressed as part of the conversation that we need to have, and that has already begun, around the delivery of health services in Ireland. The National Patient Experience Survey will be a vital contribution to that conversation; it will, for the first time, allow the voice of the patient – the citizen, the tax-payer – the person actually accessing the service, to be heard. And not just to be heard – but to be listened to.

That is why I am delighted to welcome this significant new patient safety innovation to our healthcare service. This joined-up approach between my Department, the HSE and HIQA is a concrete sign of the commitment all of us – policy makers, service providers and regulators – have to improving the quality and the safety of our health services for patients. This survey will identify areas for improvement providing a direct focus for changes required.

I am also confident that through this survey we will discover many examples of good practice, which can be shared across the country, and of patients who received the highest standard of care during their stay in hospital, and capturing those important messages is also vital, not least for the staff providing the care in our hospitals.

However, I would note that the National Patient Experience Survey is just one element of the wider Patient Safety and Quality agenda which my Department is committed to.  In November 2015, the Government agreed a major programme of patient safety reforms, which included the establishment of a National Patient Safety Office in the Department of Health; I was very pleased to have been able to launch that office in Dublin Castle last December. The National Patient Safety Office will now provide the required leadership and direction with regard to patient safety policy for the healthcare system as a whole. It is leading a programme of patient safety measures focused on a variety of initiatives, including new legislation, the establishment of a national patient advocacy service, overhauling the complaints process, the introduction of a patient safety surveillance system and the extension of the clinical effectiveness agenda. It will also oversee the creation of a new National Advisory Council for Patient Safety.

Within the programme of legislation, my Department will progress licensing of our public and private hospitals, the Health Information and Patient Safety Bill and provisions to support open disclosure.

My expectation is that these developments will work in tandem with the National Patient Experience Survey. The survey model will utilise both postal and online methods to gather information, however the focus is very much on moving towards a purely online approach over the coming years.

The survey will aim to be conducted across the country in one month, allowing for a comprehensive picture of the way in which patients all over Ireland are experiencing their care at a given moment in time. The generation of data in this manner has the potential to profoundly impact on how healthcare is delivered in this country.

As I have said, the survey is a joint initiative being undertaken by my Department, the HSE and HIQA, and all expect to utilise the data generated. The HSE, as the service provider, will have robust information across hospitals and services on patient experiences. Individual hospitals will be able to quickly identify where problems are emerging in particular areas, while at the same time gathering information on the strengths of the organisation. Good practice that is identified can be shared.

The survey will, in addition, assist the HSE in the development and implementation of its new Patient Safety Programme, for which I understand planning is already well advanced.  For hospitals and Hospital Groups, the results of the survey will inform the development of quality improvement plans that will be published online.

HIQA, as the regulator for the Health Service, will have access to a new source of information on the actual experience of patients in Irish hospitals. It will be a major boost to the overall drive to improve quality and standards, and provide greater insight into the risk analysis of service provision. We have already seen the positive influence which HIQA has had in recent years in relation to tackling issues such as Healthcare Acquired Infections and, through the introduction of Standards in a number of areas, including last year in relation to maternity services. I also look forward to the finalisation shortly of Standards for the investigation of patient safety incidents.

For the Department of Health, which is responsible for leading the development of health policy, the National Patient Experience Survey will provide evidence to determine whether its strategies are having the desired impact, both at a national and a local level.

It will also allow for an assessment to be made between the experiences of people in different parts of the country, and of different groups of people, and how the health service might better respond to their specific needs.

For the individual patient, researchers have found a strong correlation between a positive healthcare experience and the quality of the care provided. Beyond that, of course, patients have a right to expect that their experience in an Irish hospital will be positive, and that they will be empowered and engaged in relation to the decisions around their healthcare needs.

In 2016, I was pleased to see many positive results in the report of the National Healthcare Quality Reporting System, which my Department publishes annually.

My intention is that the findings of the National Patient Experience Survey will in future be included in the National Healthcare Quality Reporting system’s publications. This will allow for two measures of the performance of the health system – quantitative and qualitative – to be presented alongside each other and, I would hope, to also complement each other.

The survey will also inform the Clinical Effectiveness agenda being progressed by the National Patient Safety Office, in its development of guidelines which promote improved patient safety and quality across the health service.

I also intend to see a further, linked strand developed, focused on capturing the views of the clinical staff on the frontlines on patient safety issues.

Next year, we plan to commence a Patient Safety Culture survey, to be conducted throughout the hospital system amongst staff.

I know that many of the people in this room have already been working hard to promote the National Patient Experience Survey – I have been doing my own small part to get the word out on Twitter as well. With the potential for as many as 30,000 people to be invited to participate, I would appeal to all of you to keep up your efforts, and to get as many people as possible to respond to the survey.

In conclusion, I am delighted to be able to welcome this significant new innovation to our healthcare system.  While the Irish healthcare system has been through some difficult times in the past few years, we are now beginning to see how we will overcome these challenges.

We will look to empower patients, staff and hospitals through the generation of appropriate data so that we can all see where to focus our efforts; we will continue to work to improve the experience of the patient in the healthcare setting through enhancing safety and the quality of care, and by encouraging patients to participate in the decisions around their own care; and we will carry on the task of ensuring that the Irish healthcare system meets the high standards that all of our citizens rightfully expect.

National Patient Experience Survey