Up to 27,000 patients will be eligible to take part
An Ireland-first survey of patients in hospitals has been launched by Health Minister Simon Harris.
The survey will give patients an opportunity to describe their experiences, and this information will be used to improve the health service.
Starting on May 1st, all adult patients who are discharged from a public acute hospital during this month will be invited to participate.
Up to 27,000 patients will be eligible, making this the largest single survey of the healthcare system in Ireland.
Patients will be asked 61 questions on topics such as confidence and trust in hospital staff, hospital food, care and treatment - and whether their medications and possible side-effects were explained before being discharged from hospital.
It is a joint initiative by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health.
The National Patient Experience Survey Programme will use data collected to shape future healthcare policy.
Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients' Association told Newstalk.com while it is a welcome development, some questions remain over participation.
"I think a survey of this nature is to be welcomed, because it's going to be quite extensive in the information it's going to gather in patients - and we would encourage all patients who have the opportunity to participate in this to so do.
"This is looking at patients who are in the system being treated - let’s recall that we've 491 patients today on trolleys and we have almost one in four of 2.7 million people who do not have health insurance (who) are on some waiting list or another.
"So there's a huge issue of access in our healthcare. This survey is looking at what happens when you finally get into the system".
"One interesting aspect of this survey is that to patients who would be selected to participate, they do give an option to opt out of that by either phoning a free phone number of going online to delete your participation.
"However I would think it's probably simpler that people would be used to getting surveys and participating in elections and so on - and if you don't want to participate you simply don't send back a reply".
Asked what his association was hoping to get from the study, Mr McMahon said: "It's a very important outreach by the system, insofar as that we would hope that they will hear what we hear from patients.
"Issues about access, but equally any queries about the quality of services they've received - hygiene, attitudes of staff, whether they're included in decision-making...so we would hope that it will capture those sort of attitudes and how they perform.
Asked if he thought the survey should have been conducted in the busier wintertime, Mr McMahon said: "The demands on our healthcare system are so intense on every day of the year, I think that whether it's May or whether it's November really isn't that important - because you're going to get how the system is actually responding to an individual patient's experience.
"Until we get the extra capacity to be able to ease the peaks that we do get in the winter months, we are going to have continuous problems there."
Speaking at the launch earlier, Minister Harris said: "I am delighted to welcome this significant new patient safety innovation to our healthcare service.
"This joined-up approach between my Department, the HSE and HIQA is a concrete sign of the commitment all of us - policy makers, service providers and regulators - have to improving the quality and the safety of our health services for patients.
"This survey will identify areas for improvement providing a direct focus for changes required.
"I am also confident that through this survey we will discover many examples of good practice which can be shared across the country."
Sheila O’Connor, of the national patient advocacy organisation Patient Focus, said: "The experiences of patients are crucial to the evaluation of the service provided by our hospitals.
"For too long patients’ voices have not been consistently heard. This initiative is a first, but important part of the solution.
"By means of this survey, patients can tell of their own personal experiences so that their voices can begin to be heard and listened to."
While Tony O'Brien, Director General of the HSE, added: "The HSE, welcomes this significant and very important survey programme, which will provide the organisation with robust, evidence based information about patient experience across acute hospital services in Ireland.
"The survey is part of a grass-roots, led approach to quality improvement. We want to drive quality across the system by listening to the experiences of patients, finding out what is working and what needs to be improved upon".
All survey responses will be combined to produce a national report on patients’ experience, as well as hospital group reports.