The majority of children and young people who attended hospital as an inpatient or day case patient during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic were happy with the care they received, said that they were well looked after and that their privacy was respected. Similarly, more than two-thirds of parents and carers (68%) rated their child’s overall experience of care as a nine or above out of ten.

Published 9 December, the results of the 2020 Children and Young People’s NHS Patient Experience Survey reveal what over 27,300 children and young people under the age of 16 and their parents and carers said about the hospital care they received during November 2020, December 2020 and January 2021 – a time when the second COVID-19 wave was at its peak and NHS services were facing extreme pressures.

Overall, most children and young people aged 8-15 who took part in the survey said they had been looked after ‘very well’ (73%) while in hospital (compared to 70% who said this in 2018) and 89% felt that the staff looking after them were ‘always’ friendly (87% in 2018).

The majority of children and young people surveyed were also positive about the way in which staff had communicated with them. Eighty-eight per cent reported that staff had talked to them about how they would be cared for, and of those who had an operation or procedure while in hospital, 93% said they received an explanation beforehand about what would happen.

Most children and young people (86%) said they were always given enough privacy when receiving care and treatment compared to 82% who said this in 2018, and 92% said they felt able to speak to a doctor or nurse without their parents being there (90% in 2018).

Among parents and carers of children aged seven and under, 87% felt their child had ‘always’ been well looked after by hospital staff (82% in 2018) and 90 % felt that, as parents and carers, they were ‘always’ treated with dignity and respect.

Almost all parents and carers surveyed (93%) said that staff agreed a plan for their child’s care with them and the vast majority (86%) said they were given information about their child’s care in a way they could understand.

Despite increased visiting restrictions being in place across most hospitals in England during the survey sample months, most parents (95%) said they were ‘always’ able to be with their child as much as they needed to.

While the majority of responses reflect a positive experience, the survey also identified some areas where NHS trusts could improve.

Less than half (46%) of children and young people said they were involved ‘a lot’ in decisions about their care and treatment. Thirty-nine per cent said they were involved ‘a little’ and 14% said they were not involved at all.

While most children aged to 8 to 15 (70%) said they ‘always’ understood what hospital staff said when they spoke with them, just over three in 10 (31%) said they did not. These figures are unchanged since 2018.

Less than half (44%) of children and young people surveyed said that there were enough things for them to do in hospital (down from 50% in 2018), and over four in 10 (41%) said staff did not play or do activities with them.

Just under a quarter (23%) of all parents and carers did not feel staff had ‘definitely’ kept them informed about what was happening with their child’s care. When leaving hospital, under three-quarters (72%) of parents and carers said they ‘definitely’ knew what was going happen next and less than eight in 10 (79%) ‘definitely’ knew who to talk to if they were worried about their child when they got home.

There were considerable changes in parents’ experiences of hospital facilities in 2020 which is likely to reflect increased restrictions due to COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures being in place. Less than a third (28%) were able to get a hot drink from a kitchen area or parents’ room, down from more than half (54%) who were in 2018. And only 21% said they had access to a café or vending machine, compared to 36% who said this in 2018.

Survey responses were often less positive where a child or young person had a self-reported mental health condition and for those in hospital for medical care rather than a surgical procedure.

Ted Baker, CQC’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals, said:

“This is the fourth children and young people’s patient survey since it was first introduced in 2014 and I am pleased to see that once again the feedback received from the majority is largely positive.

“This year’s survey captures a snapshot of the experiences of children and young people who received care in hospital during the height of the second Covid wave. Yet despite the significant challenges faced by services at that time, the results show some encouraging improvements. This is a testament to the efforts of healthcare professionals working tirelessly to provide high quality care in the context of unprecedented pressures.

“The survey does show some areas where children, young people and their parents and carers reported a less positive experience and trusts should examine their individual results to help identify where they may be able to make improvements in care as a result.

“The survey provides a unique insight into children and young people’s experiences of hospital care. Along with our monitoring and inspections, this feedback is crucial to help the NHS enhance the quality of its services for young people.”

The survey findings have been shared with all hospital trusts that took part so they can review their individual results and take steps to address any areas where improvements are needed. CQC will continue to use the findings as part of its ongoing monitoring of the quality of children and young people’s services and to plan and target its inspection activity.