The difficulties patients and their families face in trying to 'pin down' hospital doctors or find a staff member to talk to about their worries and fears, are among the frustrations captured in the latest National Patient Experience Survey.
“Not enough staff to take the time to talk to the patients, everyone seemed that they were rushing and under pressure all the time” - is how one patient described their experience to health watchdog HIQA who conducted the 2018 survey.
More than 3,700 said family members did not have sufficient opportunities to talk to a doctor. In contrast, almost 12,000 said nurses on the ward generally answer questions in a manner they can understand.
In the area of examination, diagnosis and treatment, more than 5,000 patients said they did not really have enough time to discuss their treatment with a doctor and almost 4,000 said they had limited success finding a member of staff to talk to about their worries.
Sage Advocacy said communication with patients “continues to be an issue with too many patients feeling that they did not have enough time to ask questions”.
“While this may point to an ongoing problem of poor communication skills, it is just as likely to point to pressures on doctors and the ongoing shortage of consultants in certain key specialties and geographic locations.”
The research also shows that spending no more than six hours in an emergency department (ED) remains largely a pipe dream. One patient said they were only tended to after they fainted.
“Although I was then on a trolley in the corridor, I was still waiting for 12 hours to be seen by a doctor.”
None of the 27 hospitals with EDs succeeded in meeting the HSE target of getting three-quarters of patients from the ED into a bed inside six hours.
Yet despite long waits, most people (81%) said they were always treated with dignity and respect in the ED.
Rachel Flynn, director of health information at HIQA, said all hospitals have fallen “well short” of the six hour/75% target, but survey feedback shows patients aren't blaming staff.
They seem resigned to waiting, she said, but warned it could have “negative consequences for the patient’s health”.
The survey, which extended to 40 public acute hospitals and elicited responses from almost 13,500 patients, found two main areas of improvement since 2017: care on the ward and hospital discharge.
The discharge stage of care improved since last year, but remains the weakest stage.
Ms Flynn said discharge planning should begin as soon as a patient is admitted and consideration should be given, not just to medication side-effects, but to home and family circumstances.
One patient described how they were “sent from the ward at 9.30am - left hospital at 3.30pm. Caused a lot of problems arranging lift home when no specific time could be advised”.
Ms Flynn said the results of the survey show patients want staff “to provide them and their families with more information about their treatment, and would like to be involved in decisions about their care and discharge”.
Health Minister, Simon Harris, said the huge patient response to the survey “shows patients want to have their voices heard and it is absolutely essential the health service listens and responds when they tell their stories of care”.
The HSE said it welcomes the publication (yesterday) of the survey and that it has also published “Listening Responding and Improving 2018” which outlines the improvement work currently underway across hospitals to improve patients’ experience.
Patients aged 16+ who spent a minimum of 24 hours in a public acute hospital, were discharged in May 2018, and have a postal address in the Republic of Ireland, were eligible to participate in the survey.