Waiting for hospital treatment: a qualitative report on patient experience in Southwark

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Summary of report content

HW Southwark carried out 11 in-depth interviews with local people waiting for hospital treatment. They found that while the interviewees’ experiences of waiting for hospital treatment were generally negative, they were understanding of the pressures on the NHS, appreciative of staff time and any direct communication. A few were adept at managing their health, but there was a general sense of just about managing - 'getting by' one day at a time.

Their experiences of waiting had four main aspects:

  • Uncertainty - Related to lack of communication and a sense of 'not knowing'.
  • Fighting - Feeling like they alone had to constantly push for things to happen.
  • Crisis - Uncertainty and exhaustion while waiting contributed to a decline in mental health, physical health, or relationships.
  • Resignation - People accepted what was happening and felt they couldn't change it or weren't in control.

HW Southwark also found that the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated uncertainty, crisis, and resignation in particular.

Based on their findings, HW Southwark made seven recommendations:

  1. Give more information to patients at set stages of their journey.
  2. Include, for example, acknowledgement of anything that has happened, a clear point of contact, and next steps with expected timeframes.
  3. Have a process or protocol for waiting patients, where if something is incomplete or hasn't happened, their case is flagged in the system.
  4. Ensure experiences of patients with multiple long-term conditions are included in service design and quality monitoring.
  5. Provide mental health signposting upon referral.
  6. Promote opportunities for positive interactions between staff and patients.
  7. Ensure feedback and complaints information is given to waiting patients.

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General details

Report title 
Waiting for hospital treatment: a qualitative report on patient experience in Southwark
Local Healthwatch 
Healthwatch Southwark
Date of publication 
Friday, 30 April, 2021
Date evidence capture began 
Sunday, 1 November, 2020
Date evidence capture finished 
Sunday, 31 January, 2021
Key themes 
Continuity of care
Health inequalities
Health promotion
Health protection
Service delivery organisation and staffing
Waiting times and lists for treatment

Methodology and approach

Primary research method used 
Structured interview

Details of health and care services included in the report

Secondary care services 
Cancer services
Inpatient care

Details about conditions and diseases

Types of disabilities 
Long term condition
Types of long term conditions 

Details of people who shared their views

Number of people who shared their views 
Age group 
25-64 years
65-85 years
Black/ African / Caribbean / Black British
Mixed / multiple ethnic groups
Sexual orientation 
Prefer not to say
Does the information include public's views? 
Does the information include carer's, friend's or relative's views? 
What was the main sentiment of the people who shared their views? 

Outcomes and impact

Were recommendations made by local Healthwatch in the report? 
Does the information contain a response from a provider? 

Network Impact
Relationships that exist locally, regionally, nationally have benefited from the work undertaken in the report
Implied Impact
Where it is implied that change may occur in the future as a result of Healthwatch work. This can be implied in a provider  response, press release or other source. Implied impact can become tangible impact once change has occurred.
Tangible Impact
There is evidence of change that can be directly attributed to Healthwatch work undertaken in the report.