Implementing the survey; the practicalities

1. Setting up a freepost address

A freepost address allows patients to return completed questionnaires at no cost to themselves. After you have paid for the licence you will only pay for the responses you receive. The freepost address can be printed on the envelopes you send out with the questionnaires. Printed envelopes must comply with Royal Mail guidelines. If you have hired a contractor, your contractor will set this up for you.

2. Setting up a PO Box

The mail out envelope(s) must not include any indication of the sender address.

If using a contractor
Your contractor will set up the freepost address and the PO address for you.

If conducting the survey in-house
You will need to set up a freepost address, as well as a PO address for the surveys.

3. Freephone helpline and email helpdesk

The covering letter to patients should include a telephone number and email address for patients to contact if they have any questions or complaints about the survey. All staff who are likely to take calls or emails should be properly briefed about the details of the survey, and be aware of the questions or complaints they are likely to receive. You must set up a freephone line for this purpose.

Managing the freephone helpline and email helpdesk

Where appropriate, ask the patient to tell you the Patient Record Number (PRN) which should be on the letter they received. You can then check this number against the numbers in the mailing file and log the appropriate code to record the nature of the call.

The Patient Record Number (PRN) or Service User Record Number (SURN) (for the Community Mental Health Survey only) is a unique number allocated to all patients at the time of preparing the sample that allows matching up of the response data with the sample data. It also allows patients to identify themselves if they contact the trust.

Below are some questions and comments commonly asked and some advice on how they can be managed. Even if you are using a contractor to run the survey on your behalf, you may get patients contacting your trust directly about the survey.

I have a specific comment, complaint or question about my care or treatment. Who can I contact?

Patients can be referred to the trust’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALs), the complaints manager or patient services manager.

The person to whom the questionnaire is addressed is unable to understand it.

Relatives or carers may call or email to pass on this information. In some cases, they may offer to complete the questionnaire for the patient, but this is only advisable if the responses will still be a true reflection of the patient’s views.

The person to whom the questionnaire is addressed has died.

Even with the use of a deceased patients tracing service, it may not be possible to identify all deceased patients, particularly those who have died most recently. It is very important that staff who take the calls are aware of this possibility and are prepared to respond sensitively to such calls.

I would like to take part but English is not my first language.

If a patient’s spoken English is better than their written English, they may be willing to have someone, such as a family member, fill in a form on their behalf. It is also strongly recommended that you offer access to an interpretation service, where the questionnaire can be filled in over the telephone.

Please note: from 2020 onwards, the Adult Inpatient Survey and the Maternity Survey offers translated versions of the survey online in the following languages: Arabic, Bengali, French, Gujarati, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Spanish and Urdu.

I do not wish to participate in this survey.

A few patients might contact to say that they do not want to be involved in the survey and fewer still may object to being sent the questionnaire in the first place. Staff should apologise to the patient and reiterate the statement in the covering letter – that taking part in the survey is voluntary and that the patient’s care will not be affected in any way if they do not respond.

  • You are required to record any objection immediately, and to check whether a mailing is underway. If a mailing is underway, the caller will need to be advised that it might not be possible to prevent this mailing but assured that they will receive no future mailings.
  • People who do not want to receive any further questionnaires should be logged on the mailing file.
  • When speaking to callers wishing to opt-out of future survey mailings, it is not appropriate to try and dissuade them from their intent.
  • Keep a record of the reason patients called by logging these in the Weekly Monitoring template that is submitted to the Survey Coordination Centre.

4. Printing the survey materials

If you intend to copy the questionnaire into your own format you must be careful to replicate it exactly. This includes:

  • Question and response option wording and numbering
  • Routing instructions
  • Any other instructions to respondents.

Paper questions should be formatted as two columns and set out across the page as per the original. Questionnaires must be printed in A4 booklet style and centre-stapled.

Covering letters
Covering letters should be printed on the trust’s letterhead paper. There is a different covering letter for each mailing.

You may not make any modifications to the covering letters. This is because they are submitted for ethics approval. Once ethics approval has been granted, changes to the covering letters are not permissible.

If the patient name is included in the letter, take great care that these are matched to the corresponding questionnaire (identified by the PRN/SURN) and envelope.

5. Sending out Survey packs

For results to be representative, it is essential to get a good response rate. To achieve a good response rate, you must send out reminders to non-responders. The survey handbook will specify how many reminders should be sent. Depending on the time that has elapsed since you first checked your patient list for deaths, it might be necessary to send your list back to the Demographic Batch Service (DBS) for a further check before you send out reminders. At the very least the trust’s own records should be checked.

Mailing contents
Please refer to the survey handbook for the contents and timings for each mailing pack. These can be found using the links below.

Children and Young People

Adult Inpatient

Urgent and Emergency Care


Community Mental Health

6. Booking in questionnaires

If using a contractor
Your contractor will book the questionnaires in for you.

If conducting the survey in-house
Depending on the survey, there will be either paper responses to collate, or both paper and online response.

When paper questionnaires are returned, match up the PRN/SURN’s against the list of patients so that you can record (in the outcome column of your ‘sample file’) which patients have returned questionnaires and will not therefore need to be sent reminders.

For those filling out the online survey (Inpatient and Maternity surveys only), the PRN/SURN will be sent to you by the Coordination Centre by 10am every morning during fieldwork. These should also be matched against your sample file and they should be removed from any future reminders.

Keep paper copies (or scanned pictures of all the pages of the questionnaires, including the front page) of any questionnaires that are returned to you until further notice – but do not send these to the Survey Coordination Centre unless requested.

If a questionnaire is returned with the PRN/SURN removed, please enter the response information in an additional row at the bottom of the data file when submitting it to the Survey Coordination Centre.