GP Patient Survey requires lots of patience

Despite my husband rarely seeing our local GP, he received a GP patient survey through the post.  As a society, we are all pretty time-poor, and for businesses and organisations trying to gain much-needed feedback, this is a challenge and requires lots of patience.

When you buy a product, you are asked to give feedback. Whether that’s after you’ve finished your transaction in-store and are offered the chance to win cash or a voucher for filling out feedback forms; or you buy a product online and are asked to give feedback after your first purchase.

You will be asked between 1 and 5 questions (five at the absolute most), as businesses know people are unlikely to give feedback if they ask any more than this.

So back to my husband’s GP patient survey. Spread over eight pages with 63 questions, exceeding all the unwritten rules about gaining feedback, but surprisingly has been awarded the Crystal Mark from the Plain English Campaign. 


The things that they look for when awarding the Crystal Mark are:

  • A good average sentence length (about 15 to 20 words
  • plenty of ‘active’ verbs (instead of ‘passive’ ones)
  • everyday English
  • words like ‘we’ and ‘you’ instead of ‘the insured’, ‘the applicant’, ‘the society’ and so on
  • conciseness
  • clear, helpful headings with consistent and suitable ways of making them stand out from the text
  • good font size and clear typeface
  • plenty of answer space and a logical flow (on forms).

The focus here with the Plain English campaign is clearly language use, but the reality is that there are 63 questions in total.  Whether the individual questions are using plain English or not, there are many questions. These could be overwhelming and inaccessible for the audiences for whom plain English is necessary.


The practicalities


If we look at it in a practical sense, very few people have enough time to sit down with a questionnaire and answer 63 questions. They will get no real insight into their audience due to a very low response rate.

The number of questions asked creates a barrier for a range of audiences: including deaf people, those with learning difficulties and those with mental health problems. The potential lack of response from these patient groups could mean that the patients that need higher levels of support aren’t able to feed that back into the NHS in a useful and conducive way to influencing change.

However, it looks like they have tried to tackle this challenge when it comes to deaf patients, in particular, by offering a BSL version of the survey.  On the website, there is one page at:, where if you scroll down the page – you can watch the twelve different BSL videos explaining the purpose of the survey and why it has been sent to people.  This does not tackle the sheer volume of questions but simply offers a different way of accessing the content.

It’s also difficult to see what they are looking to gain with the feedback they receive. As questions range from how easy it is to get in touch with your GP practice on the phone; to how helpful the receptionists are, to whether their website has useful information, and whether the appointment times available are suitable. Mixed in with those basic questions are more complicated ones, such as queries on a patient’s long-term physical or mental health conditions, disabilities or illnesses.

It highlights the need to consider the outcome you want to achieve with a questionnaire or feedback form.   On the other side of that, understanding who you may be excluded from by doing things a certain way.  I am sure that this was never the intention of the NHS survey, but I can almost guarantee it will be the reality.


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