Patient Opinion is to receive government funding to become the official site for patient feedback on social care services.
Care minister Paul Burstow announced the project yesterday at the launch of the Department of Health’s Voluntary Sector Investment Programme 2012-13, which has allocated £6.8m to 50 organisations.
Patient Opinion will receive £160,000 over two years to become the first official site to accept patients’ and carers’ stories on social care services such as nursing homes, residential care homes for the mentally disabled and home care providers.
The not-for-profit website was co-founded by Sheffield GP Dr Paul Hodgkin and has been operating in the health sector since 2005. It will base the new social care site – due to go live in the summer of 2013 – on its current model.
Dr Hodgkin, who is also the chief executive, said the government was looking for an independent platform with a proven track record. He added that research had shown that people preferred to give feedback on services on independent sites.
“We know what we are doing in health, and while social care is significantly different, it means we are not starting from scratch in software development terms or in making it useful to busy staff as well as carers and clients,” he explained.
The integrated site will enable staff members to directly respond to service users’ stories and notify them when changes have been made as a result.
Dr Hodgkin said the organisation had piloted the idea of opening up the site for feedback on nursing homes in 2008, but needed funding to develop the functionality.
Social care clients were often vulnerable; therefore a different approach is needed to encourage engagement by both patients and carers in a way that is useful for staff, he explained.
Patient Opinion already receives 15-20% of its feedback through free post fliers and a telephone line, which will be important for elderly people who may not have access to the internet.
Dr Hodgkin said integrating feedback on health and social care was important for patients as although funded separately, many people perceived care homes and hospitals as part of the same process.
Patient Opinion has carried NHS Choices comments on health services since 2008 through a “mash-up” with an NHS Choices data feed from a site run by the Cabinet Office’s Power of Information Taskforce.
“We are in some senses in competition with NHS Choices, but we also have different offerings and it’s not clear what NHS Choices’ long term view of their feedback function is,” said Dr Hodgkin.
“I’m not sure if they are planning to stay in that market or not. We would be part of the solution were they to withdraw.”
The former GP was keen to work with other sites that rated social care providers or collected stories from patients.
“We don’t want to have a situation where there are lots of different places where people can go and get feedback about an organisation,” he said.
Patient Opinion social care development manager Jasmine Ali said the ability to create public conversations between patients and staff had been“proven to significantly improve service”.
“We want the new site to be as useful to social care staff as it is to service users and their families,” she said.
There are about 57,000 any qualified providers of social care services registered with the Care Quality Commission.