It is recognised that it is difficult for people with communication disability to give feedback to health service staff. The group that developed the Making communication even better resource decided that mystery shopping would be a good way to find out whether health staff were supporting their communication and enabling them to access the services that they require and are entitled to. Funding was sought and gained from NHS Education Scotland for a small mystery shopping project.
20 people with communication disability were involved in the project which was coordinated by Talking Mats Limited and the Stroke Association Scotland. There were different aspects of the project – making phone calls, face to face visits and recounting personal experience . It covered the 14 Health boards in Scotland. The project report was named ‘Through a Different Door’ as this reflected the overall findings that people had highly varied experiences of interactions with health service staff ranging from the excellent and supportive to poor which had the further risk of endangering patient safety . Click here to read the final reports
Whilst developing the eating and drinking resource, we tried it out with people with a range of eating and drinking difficulties. I talked to Ellie, who had swallowing difficulties following a stroke. She found it really helpful to use the mats to think about different aspects of meals (mealtimes, where you eat and the process of eating). Ellie had very good insight into her eating and drinking difficulties and had developed clear strategies to help manage them. She found breakfast and snacks the most difficult meals to manage. She was also very clear that pureed and soft moist foods were the safest and easiest for her. After we had done the mat, Ellie reflected on her eating and drinking, saying that it was limiting but that she could see that things had improved. One of the most difficult things for her was the impact of her swallowing difficulties on some of the social aspects of eating. She really misses going out for a meal with family and friends, something that we often take for granted.
Doing the ‘meals’ mat helped Ellie to see that although she still has many difficulties, mealtimes have become less stressful. For example, although eating and drinking is still a long, slow process, Ellie and her family have adapted to this and now manage ok, especially if they plan ahead. Some useful action points were also identified for the professionals working with Ellie – it would be good for her to have suggestions about a greater range of breakfast options as well as a variety of snacks which she could eat between meals.
Using the mats really helped to clarify the progress that Ellie has made with her eating and drinking since her stroke.