NHS Jargon part 3: How not to reassure patients when you’re being investigated for lots of deaths

Last week, the report into what went wrong at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, made for very bleak reading. It also emerged that five more hospitals were to be investigated amid concerns about a high number of deaths on their wards.

The hospitals now under investigation are ones which have reported a high ‘summary hospital-level mortality indicator’,  a government measure on hospital deaths. Of course, a high level doesn’t necessarily mean a hospital is doing something wrong – the local population could generally have poorer health than in a more affluent area, for example.

Now, given the level of publicity such an announcement is likely to make, you’d think the hospitals involved would be keen to put minds at ease with an easy-to-understand, reassuring message. You’d think. And in fairness, some were very, very straightforward. East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, for example managed to put across a series of comments from senior health figures in the area in a way which was easy to take in – despite the odd reference to ‘outcomes for patients.’

Not so at Tameside Hospital in Greater Manchester, which for several years had been nicknamed Shameside by patients fed up with the service they got.

Step forward chief executive Christine Green, with this bingo-card busting string of NHS jargon posted on the hospital’s website to reassure visitors:

“It is well recognised that Tameside Hospital’s Summary Hospital Mortality Indicator (SHMI) has been elevated for the last two years.  In the same way as the hospital has addressed the Dr Foster reported Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratio (HSMR), it has committed to working with its partner organisations to similarly reduce the SHMI.

“This additional national focus from Sir Bruce Keogh is welcomed by the hospital as it provides for an even wider–reaching review of the many complex factors that influence the SHMI across the Tameside and Glossop Health Economy.  The vast and sustained improvement achieved in our HSMR indicates that addressing the SHMI requires a multi-agency approach, including the local Clinical Commissioning Group and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council.

“Over recent years the hospital has undertaken an extensive quality improvement programme, which has seen significant quality gains across a wide range of other clinical indicators including hospital infections, falls, deep vein thrombosis screening and pressure ulcers.

“The 2012 NHS Staff Survey, Friends and Family Indicator, has identified a significant improvement in the number of people recommending Tameside Hospital for treatment and care.”

Would you feel reassured if you lived in Tameside? Talk about trying to blind people with ‘science’ – or in this case, corporate NHS speak. Maybe it’s no wonder local MP Andrew Gwynne is calling on her to resign. Whether he’ll get a simple yes or no in reply is, of course, another matter.

Worryingly, it’s not as if Tameside don’t have access to PR expertise: according to Yorkshire-based Act PR – which boasts on its website that it knows how to make a difference to your PR and communications. – the hospital is among its clients. How much of a role they played in the above statement, I don’t know.

In English, I think they are trying to say:  “It is well documented that Tameside Hospital’s SHMI has been high for the last two years. As with other similar indicators, including one produced by Dr Foster, we are working hard to try and make changes.

“There are many factors which can contribute to a high SHMI, and we need to work with other organisations, including the council and the clinical commissioning groups which decide which services are required, to address this issue. Nothing is more important to us than the best possible treatment for our patients and we look forward to getting advice and support from Sir Bruce Keogh to make sure we are providing people with just that. ”

I probably wouldn’t have included the last paragraph about the NHS Staff Survey, either. Having looked up the 2011 results, it turns out half of staff wouldn’t recommend the hospital to friends and family. In words of Yazz, in this case the only way really is up. Hopefully, the percentage of staff confident the hospital will deal with problems when told about them will rise above the 50% mark too this time.

Is it too much to ask for plain speaking in the NHS? Or is it just easier to hide behind jargon?







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