COMMENT - PATIENT POWER

Published: 01/09/2005, Volume II5, No. 5971 Page 3

Ever fallen foul of an incompetent bank or insurer? Ever wanted to get your own back by showing up the lack of regard with which you were treated?

This sense of righting wrongs is no doubt what motivated many of those who took part in the new BBC3 programme Mischief which led around 100 people who had been affected by MRSA back into 10 hospitals armed with mops and buckets last month (news, page 6).

Is this an engaging way to tackle a serious issue, as the BBC suggests? Or was the programme, as the hospitals involved could well argue, a foolhardy stunt which endangered patient confidentiality and created safety risks, including cross-infection?

Perhaps we should wonder what lies behind these regular intrusions into hospitals? The fact that MRSA is now a 'big' media story is clearly a key factor, but just as important is patients' changing view of NHS care. In the past people accepted what happened to them in hospital - good or bad. That is no longer the case. At least in the UK it is cameras that are used to make the point; in the US, patients retaliate through the courts.

The trend towards patients viewing themselves as consumers, with rights, is now well-established. The NHS must learn from those companies which demonstrate the most successful tactics for dealing with disgruntled customers. l