It’s time to measure performance on patients’ priorities

The Prime Minister says he wants to prioritise the NHS, so let’s start by prioritising – and measuring – what matters to patients.

With such a strong focus on Brexit, it’s easy to miss that the Conservative’s key domestic pledges at the last election had a notably different emphasis compared to past campaigns. “£33.9 billion extra for our NHS, 20,000 more police officers and more funding for school pupils” may cover off traditional electoral topics, but their focus on inputs rather than outputs is an unusual departure for the Tories.

The key to keeping those newly won seats in areas as diverse as Blyth Valley, Dudley and Kensington will be to translate those inputs into meaningful change in public services. Achieving tangible change is much harder than making headline funding commitments. The frustrated and increasingly cynical electorate public needs to feel those changes in everyday life.

The Government’s commitment to tackling this is clear. The Queen’s Speech contained four new health Bills including a legal commitment to funding. Though beneath the headlines, the draft bill on making the NHS long-term plan real will likely have the most impact in how it shapes the future direction.

Crucially though, there is a set of decisions that do not require legislation but will determine priorities: the things we measure.

If the NHS is serious about tackling things that patients really notice, like how long it takes to get a GP appointment, or even whether it is possible to get through to the GP practice in the first place, then this information needs to be systematically collected.

We already have the means to collect some of this data, e.g. through the NHS app, and that sort of information is routinely collected by digital health providers – along with a host of other arguable metrics. However, for most people who typically call their GP service for an appointment, we only have a partial picture available. That’s a big gap, and frankly, it sends the wrong message.

So, a good start when thinking about how to make the changes feel real, is measure what matters to patients. Let’s start by getting a full picture of how easily we can get appointments to see GPs.