Pictured (left to right): Vicky, Mya and Cliona analyse patient feedback

by Holly Drinkwater, Healthwatch Dorset Volunteer Officer – September 2021

Volunteer-led project helps improve A&E care

Between January and June 2021, ten of our volunteers led a project to gather patient’s experiences of using A&E at Poole Hospital to help understand how A&E care could be improved.

Poole Hospital invited former A&E patients to take part in the project, and those who responded were interviewed over the phone by our volunteers.  They phoned 147 people.

We published our project report at the end of September 2021, and the hospital is already using our recommendations to guide changes and improvements in the A&E department.

This is just one example of how our volunteers support our work to gather public feedback so that we can drive and guide improvements in local health and social care services.  Our volunteers are now working on a similar project to gather feedback from patients who visited A&E at Dorset County Hospital.

What our volunteers did

During the pandemic, our volunteers couldn’t carry out their usual face-to-face public engagement work, so this project was a great opportunity to gather valuable feedback from the safety of their own homes.

We worked with them to plan the project and to create the interview questions and a script.  We provided training and support, to make sure the interviews flowed and that the responses were captured and analysed meaningfully using Healthwatch reporting systems.

Each volunteer called between two and six people a week and they recorded feedback via an online form. Three volunteers, Vicky, Mya, and Cliona, then helped us to review and analyse all 147 feedback interviews to identify key themes for our report. We asked Vicky, Mya, and Cliona to share their reflections on the project.


Vicky completed nine phone interviews and found that people generally recalled a very positive experience of A&E.  This included the care and kindness of the doctors and nurses, general cleanliness of the ward, transport, well stocked vending machines, and generally good aftercare.  However, in relation to aftercare, some people mentioned that they would prefer a ‘road map’ of sorts, and some of the information about further support was a little conflicting.

People also mentioned that there were great coronavirus precautions and measures in place which helped them feel safe.  However, Vicky reported that people found it very stressful and upsetting that they had to go into A&E alone due to Covid, without the love and support of friends and family, in what is perceived as a scary environment and situation.

The interviewees were also impressed that the weekend A&E service was as good as the weekday service (we speculated if this might be due to pubs and clubs being closed during the pandemic).  People’s feedback about waiting times in A&E was generally that this was expected due to the amount of people present.

Vicky had only one negative comment, but it was made repeatedly.  Sadly, it was about reception staff not being as open, nice, or respectful as the other staff, and just generally being rude.

Vicky said: “I thoroughly enjoyed helping out with the Poole hospital telephone project and had some really interesting conversations with recent A&E patients about their experiences and how the service could be improved.  I look forward to more projects like this with Healthwatch Dorset.”


Mya (pictured right) completed 22 phone calls.  She noted that people who had more time to talk, generally spoke more positively about their A&E experience.

She also found that people thought positively about the Covid precautions implemented by the hospital, and that the interviewees were very understanding about waiting times at A&E.

Overall, staff attitudes were viewed in a positive light by those Maya interviewed, but the reception staff, once again, received mixed reviews.  A correlation which Mya picked up on was that those who commented on waiting time tended also to have negative feedback about the reception staff.  Parking and navigation around hospital were also negative themes that were repeated throughout the interviews Maya conducted.

Mya said: “It has been a pleasure to be able to be involved in the project and I have really enjoyed being able to talk to patients about their experiences, especially in a positive view.  I also felt like I really developed as a person by furthering my communication skills.”


Cliona (pictured right) interviewed 18 people.  She noted that the overall feedback from the interviews was generally positive, and she heard the same recurring themes as Vicky and Mya.  The negative comments that she gathered revolved around navigation of the hospital/car park and poor signage, and limited access to A&E for friends and family due to Covid.  Cliona commented that almost all her interviews were with people aged over 30.

Cliona said: “Volunteering for Healthwatch is really rewarding.  By volunteering you can help shape healthcare services by gathering views of the people who are actually experiencing them. The team is great, and it has helped me develop my communication and active listening skills!”

Additional reflections

Vicky, Mya and Cliona, also noted that most of the people they interviewed were of a white British background, interviewees often asked family members to be present during the interviews and sought their opinion, and quite a lot of interviewees had made several trips to A&E within a short space of time.

Read our report

Read our full report to find out more about the project, including our key findings and recommendations for change, and to learn how the hospital is responding to improve patient experience: Poole Hospital A&E: Local people’s experiences – What works well and what could be improved.


Thank you to everyone who took part in a phone call interview and shared their experience with us.  Your feedback has already made a positive difference.

Find out about volunteering opportunities with Healthwatch Dorset.