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Engaging- with-the-Friends-&-Family-Test

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Friends and Family Test [FFT]


This blog article is a personal opinion piece by Dr Ian Mills BDS (Glasg.), MFDS RCPS (Glasg.), MJDF RCS (Eng.), Dip Imp Dent RCS (Eng.), FFGDP (UK), FDS RCPS (Glasg.)

Ian is a partner at Torrington Dental Practice, in Devon.


The FFT will be introduced to dentistry in England on 1st April 2015, which some might consider an appropriate date to introduce such a tool. David Cameron is an enthusiastic supporter and believes this simple test will provide “a single measure that looks at the quality of care across the country."

Others, including the Picker Institute, the Kings Fund and the British Medical Association are somewhat less impressed with the value of implementing such a tool. Chris Graham of the Picker Institute has stated that “the ‘simple, headline metric’ used for the test does not provide a reliable basis for comparing services or identifying those performing best.” Dr Kailash Chand, deputy Chair of the BMA, is slightly more direct in his criticism. He has described the FFT as a “political gimmick” and asserts that the last thing we need is to collect “more meaningless or misleading data”, a comment which I’m sure will resonant with many dentists.

Sadly this point is obviously lost on the Prime Minister, who continues to believe that the FFT will allow everyone to “have a really clear idea of where to get the best care”. It is hard to believe that such a simplistic tool could actually improve the quality of patient care in dentistry. (I refer to the FFT, and not the Prime Minister!) 

The only value would appear to be in the free text question, which we have naively been given freedom to design ourselves.

The simplest approach would be to ask …. “Why?”

As in, “why did you answer the previous question in the way which you did?” Rather than “WHY?” in the context of a dentist screaming at the moon, as another pile of ill-conceived bureaucracy is dumped on them from a great height courtesy of some narcissistic NHS manager.

Other suggestions for free text questions have included:

“How much of a waste of time do you think this is?”

“What three words best describe the people who developed this questionnaire?”

In the spirit of Patient and Public Involvement, it might also be worth considering the following as a suitable second question…..

“What question do you think we should include as our second question?!!!!”

It is tempting to treat the FFT with the respect which it deserves. NHS England appears to be resigned to this approach, judging by the fact that there is currently no target set for the number of responses required! The introduction of FFT is a contractual obligation and I can’t imagine that this laissez-faire attitude will persist. Perhaps they will include it within a future iteration of the DQOF as another measure of how well we complete our paperwork. The term “biro dentistry” is about to take on a whole new meaning!

So what should you do?

In our practice, we are fortunate to have a highly motivated, efficient practice manager, who seems to revel in the imposition of NHS bureaucracy. She obviously looks at the FFT as yet another challenge to be overcome, and failure to do so would be seen as a sign of weakness. She has organised strategy meetings, staff training, team discussions and already delegated duties. None of which involve me filling in a pile of FFT forms…… as yet!

There is unanimous agreement within our practice that the FFT question is a complete waste of time. It is not a reliable indicator of quality and provides inadequate information compared to our existing patient questionnaires. We see this as an additional burden on our staff, our patients and our practice, but will reluctantly comply and attempt to use the free text question properly to gather some feedback.

So what should the profession do?

As a profession, we need the BDA to take a strong stance and challenge NHS England on the introduction of additional bureaucracy, which quite clearly has limited patient benefit. It is correct that the BDA support the introduction of measures of quality, but such tools need to be valid, appropriate and worth the paper they are written on. 


Patient experience data is of considerable value in terms of improving the quality of patient care and there is obviously an increasing amount of data that is going to be collected, analysed and interpreted. This takes time and resources, but can only be justified if the data collected is robust, reliable and can ultimately be translated into improvements in patient care. If the data is not robust and reliable, the exercise will be a waste of time and simply add to the level of unnecessary bureaucracy and administration, which we have to deal with. It is not acceptable to measure what is easy to measure, rather than what is actually meaningful. This is ineffectual, burdensome and demoralising for staff.  

Jocelyn Cornwell of the Kings Fund states that “patient experience measures will only work if clinicians as well as managers take them seriously, and in general they don’t. Clinicians will reject measures they see as inappropriate or unreliable, and will not act on the results.”


We have an opportunity to put quality at the heart of the dental contract reforms, and Patient Reported Experience Measures are going to play an important role in the evaluation of quality. The current approach of NHS England does not instill confidence and it is therefore vital that the BDA, the FGDP and others influence how quality is measured within general dental practice.


1.    Department of Health. NHS dental services in England - An independent review led by Professor Jimmy Steele. In: Health Do, editor. London: The Stationery Office; 2009.

2.    Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham K. High Quality Care For All. NHS Next Stage Review Final Report. London2008.

3.    Kings College London and The Kings Fund. What matters to patients'? Coventry2011.

4.    Department of Health. Dental contract reform: Prototypes, Overview document. In: Legislation and Policy Unit DaES, editor. London: HMSO; 2015.


 Image credit - Glyn Lowe  under CC licence


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