The Francis report into the scandal at Mid Staffordshire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust says there should be a nationally consistent way for patients to feedback online and in real-time about their experiences in hospital.

The final report of the public inquiry, published this morning, says that effective patient feedback is a powerful way of scrutinising provider performance.

Enabling patient feedback to be made and published online could prevent further instances of widespread substandard care, it suggests.

“In a society that increasingly relies on internet and social media based applications for its information, the days when it might have been justfiable to rely on a periodic conventional survey have now passed.”

The report says that it is encouraging to see a widening range of options available for patients to provide feedback, but adds that there is a need for national consistency.

“There are likely to be many different gateways offered through which patient and public comments can be made. 

"It would be helpful for there to be consistency across the country in methods of access, and for the output to be published in a manner allowing fair and informed comparison between organisations,” it recommends.

“Results and analysis of patient feedback including qualitative information need to be made available to all stakeholders in as near ‘real time’ as possible, even if later adjustments have to be made.”

The report says information systems must keep personal data confidential and secure and there should be effective means of anonymisation for use of feedback data for managerial and regulatory purposes.

It also points out that NHS Choices and the Patient Opinion website have an issue with low numbers of comments and suggests that services such as these need to be more widely advertised.

Some hospitals already seek real-time feedback from patients while they are in hospital, using things like TV monitors.

However, the report says people may be reluctant to complain in real-time and so consideration should be given to following up with patients routinely after discharge.

The Healthcare Commission suggested the use of patient reported outcome measures gathered instantaneously through electronic consoles in hospital and the use of social media.

“However, the HCC warned that it was important to distinguish between those issues on which patients were expert, such as dignity, access to staff and nutrition, and those where they were not necessarily so knowledgeable, such as the quality of clinical treatment,” the report explains.

The CQC responded that there were concerns nationally about the consistency of patient experience information and urged caution in using this information in its processes.

The government has already introduced a patient and staff satisfaction test to be used across NHS Services to expose unacceptable standards of care. The “friends and family” test will be introduced from this April.