15th October 2016

Treating the Person – Not Just the Condition

Treating the Person

The Survey

A recent Scottish survey of NHS cancer patients' experiences was positive overall. But it has lessons for everyone in the caring professions. We need to provide for people as well as for their specific conditions and needs. We need to focus on treating the person as well as the condition.

The survey - Scottish Cancer Patient Experience Survey - was commissioned by the Scottish Government and Macmillan Cancer care. It was analysed in two steps. The first analysis looked at people's views expressed in the questionnaire tick boxes. This revealed overall high satisfaction with the quality of care: 94% of people expressed positive views about their care.

The Comments

A second step involved analysis of the written comments made on the form by respondents. Again, this showed more satisfaction than otherwise. There were 2,500 positive comments and 2,000 negative comments.

The negative comments, in an analysis by cancer experts at Stirling University were revealing. Some expressed concern that they were not treated as a person. One respondent had their condition discussed in front of them without being involved. Another was asked where they would like to die, immediately after their first diagnosis.

There seemed to be more general organisation issues commented upon also. Post treatment information and emotional support was mentioned as being lacking in some cases. One of my previous blog looked at this issue, on 'health literacy' as it is called.

Administration Issues

Other people commented on administration matters which may have impacted on health care: long waits for diagnosis, difficulties with appointments, delays in medication and low staffing levels were commented up on by some.

These are serious issues for personal care, and the Macmillan organisation is right to ask for action plans to improve the dignity and respect shown, where improvement is necessary. They said: 'We need to move away from the one size fits all approach that sees patients as a set of symptoms to treat, rather than as a person who must be asked what they want and need.'

But we need to remember that the survey showed a positive result overall:  that over 90% of people were happy with their care is not to be dismissed.

Lessons to Learn?

The useful outcome is that in quality assurance programs like this, we need to ensure that people can freely comment and have those comments listened to and addressed. This is over and above answering a set of fixed questions. And this applies to managers' walk arounds, and indeed staff actions each day: we need to allow people to speak and contribute, for their own sake as well as for the sake of the quality of the service. And plainly, everyone in social care needs to show respect for the dignity of those whom they support.

The Government has pledged to use these results in its implementation of the national cancer strategy in Scotland. This will clearly be tested in the next planned survey. In the meantime, we can all learn from the detailed information it brought to the surface.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Tony Clarke

Scottish Care Inspectorate Specialist

Tony began care work as a care assistant in care of the elderly here in Scotland in the 1970s. He very much enjoyed promoting activities, interests and good basic care. After a gap to gain a social work qualification, he worked in management of care services, latterly as a peripatetic manager which gave him experience of a wide range of services.

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