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Open Access Research article

The National Adult Inpatient Survey conducted in the English National Health Service from 2002 to 2009: how have the data been used and what do we know as a result?

Anna DeCourcy1, Elizabeth West1* and David Barron2

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health and Social Care, University of Greenwich, London, UK

2 Reader in Organisational Sociology, Said Business School, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:71  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-71

Published: 21 March 2012

Abstract

Background

When it was initiated in 2001, England's national patient survey programme was one of the first in the world and has now been widely emulated in other healthcare systems. The aim of the survey programme was to make the National Health Service (NHS) more "patient centred" and more responsive to patient feedback. The national inpatient survey has now been running in England annually since 2002 gathering data from over 600,000 patients. The aim of this study is to investigate how the data have been used and to summarise what has been learned about patients' evaluation of care as a result.

Methods

Two independent researchers systematically gathered all research that included analyses of the English national adult inpatient survey data. Journals, databases and relevant websites were searched. Publications prior to 2002 were excluded. Articles were also identified following consultation with experts. All documents were then critically appraised by two co-authors both of whom have a background in statistical analysis.

Results

We found that the majority of the studies identified were reports produced by organisations contracted to gather the data or co-ordinate the data collection and used mainly descriptive statistics. A few articles used the survey data for evidence based reporting or linked the survey to other healthcare data. The patient's socio-demographic characteristics appeared to influence their evaluation of their care but characteristics of the workforce and the. At a national level, the results of the survey have been remarkably stable over time. Only in those areas where there have been co-ordinated government-led campaigns, targets and incentives, have improvements been shown. The main findings of the review are that while the survey data have been used for different purposes they seem to have incited little academic interest.

Conclusions

The national inpatient survey has been a useful resource for many authors and organisations but the full potential inherent in this large, longitudinal publicly available dataset about patients' experiences has not as yet been fully exploited.

This review suggests that the presence of survey results alone is not enough to improve patients' experiences and further research is required to understand whether and how the survey can be best used to improve standards of care in the NHS.