Reacting to feedback that comes with a sting

It’s always going to be a bit of a blow to hear negative feedback. There’s a good chance you’ll feel guilty, disappointed, defensive, angry even – or a combination of the lot. Negative feedback comes with a sting, and often that’s because it tells you what you don’t really want to hear, but know deep down is true.

Receiving negative feedback as an NHS service is no different. It hurts, and it does feel personal, and so it should. We all play our part in making services what they are and just as when we receive praise and we all take a small slice of the thanks, so to should we all take a small slice of the responsibility when something goes wrong. That’s not to say we should be racked with guilt about something we really didn’t intend but we should all listen, understand and commit to making things better.

We, Notts Healthcare, try really hard to be open and honest about when things go wrong. We publish all our feedback, however damning, on our dedicated feedback website. Mostly, it’s good stuff – accounts of really good care and lots of thank yous – but the criticisms are all there too, in the patients, carers or families own words. We also work closely with Care Opinion, the independent feedback website for the NHS, to encourage people to share their stories which are published almost immediately and we re-share them in lots of different ways – including in staff training and on the Trust’s social media profiles.

We received a story last week that was hard to read. It talked of an eight week stay on our ward in Bassetlaw Hospital. The person details problems with medication, confidentiality, staff attitudes and facilities and concludes by describing their time on the ward as ‘a trip to the dark ages of mental health care and one I don’t wish to repeat’.

Story image

Here’s the story if you’d like to read it in full:

My experience of ward B2 (story on

This is one of those occasions when feedback comes with a real sting. It’s awful to think that someone we intended to help ended up feeling worse for our intervention.

We could react to this in a few different ways. In her response, Sally (one of our service managers with responsibility for the ward) upheld our organisational commitment to listening acceptingly to feedback and doing what we can to make things better. She accepted the person’s feedback and took each point in turn, stating how she would personally address each one – “I would like to reassure you that I will address these issues and I will do this by…’.

In days gone by, an organisation would have dealt with something like this very quietly, covertly even, and tried to make it go away without attention but that’s not how we roll. James Munro, CEO of Care Opinion, recently tweeted saying:

James tweet

We took that really seriously. We took it seriously because he is right; NHS Trusts should share the bad as often as the good, not select just the compliments as marketing material. To us, feedback is our dialogue with patients and their families and part of how we openly learn and improve so that we’re delivering the best care possible.

So, consistent with that view, we shared it this story on Twitter:

Twitter image

We are sharing it here too, and we will use it in staff training. We will not be defensive or afraid to show people how this person felt about our services, and how we got it wrong this time. We will also feel pride in Sally’s sincere and constructive response, which exemplifies the attitude we’d hope all staff had on receiving something this hard to hear.

It matters to us that we are open about how our services are seen through the eyes of patients and their carers and families. It’s important that people can read how patients feel about us and what it’s been like for them to be cared for by us. Not only is it important for our organisational honesty, this is what truly being accountable to patients looks like – recognising that the people we are caring for are the best judges of whether we’re doing a good job or not.


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