NHS England is reviewing the future use of the controversial “friends and family test”, while alternative patient experience measures have been adopted for two important performance frameworks.
The national commissioning body’s head of insight and feedback Dan Wellings, who joined from Ipsos MORI in the spring, has been asked to carry out the review over the next few months.
NHS England has stressed it is committed to use of the test for some purposes, and that it had planned the review since April.
However, it follows widespread debate about the value of the test, particularly whether it can be used to compare providers.
The initiative has been heavily promoted by the government including for making comparisons between trusts and informing patient choice. However NHS England has in recent months emphasised it should be used within organisations for rapid patient feedback.
Some argue that widely varying response rates and methods for carrying out the test mean it does not given accurate comparisons.
The NHS England review will consider how the test could be best used in future and, in light of that, how collecting and reporting may need to change.
The news comes as it has emerged the test is not included in two important new frameworks for judging NHS quality and improvement.
The NHS Outcomes Framework for 2014-15, which sets the indicators the government uses to monitor overall changes in NHS quality, states: “The first set of friends and family test data contained wide variations in the numbers of respondents… the intention is to have this indicator ready for the NHS Outcomes Framework in 2015-16.”
Meanwhile, NHS England and clinical commissioning groups last month agreed seven indicators they will use to set “levels of ambition” for improvement between next year and 2016. These are expected to be a major focus of CCGs’ plans, and will be monitored nationally.
These also do not include the friends and family test. Instead, commissioners will aim to “reduce the proportion of people reporting” a poor experience of primary or inpatient care, based on existing national patient experience surveys.
NHS England director of patient experience Neil Churchill stressed to HSJ the organisation was “very committed” to the test, and supported its use for improvement. It also remains a pay-for-performance measure for CCG and hospital trusts, in the quality premium and commissioning for quality and innovation schemes respectively.
Mr Churchill said the test would also be used by CCGs for identifying quality outliers in their area. However, he said setting “levels of ambition” required measures which could confidently be compared across areas, and against records of past performance.