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The Values Based Standard™ of Macmillan Cancer Support: A quality framework for improving both patient and staff experience through co-production

Change management

There have been three key phases of the work to date:

  1. Co-design of the Macmillan Values Based Standard™
  2. Work with commissioners; regulators; professional organisations; higher education in order to influence the work of these organisations    
  3. Testing the implementation of the framework in a range of organisations

Co-design of the standards

In 2009 Macmillan Cancer Support commissioned work to research and develop a standard for cancer care services. The Macmillan Values Based Standard was co-designed through an 18 month process with over 300 healthcare staff and people living with and affected by cancer across the country.

The Macmillan Values Based Standard – eight domains
  1. Naming – “I am the expert on me”.
  2. Private communication – “My business is my business”.
  3. Communicating with more sensitivity – “ I’m more than my condition”
  4. Clinical treatment and decision-making – “I’d like to understand what will happen to me”.
  5. Acknowledge me if I’m in urgent need of support – “I’d like not to be ignored”.
  6. Control over my personal space and environment – “I’d like to feel comfortable”.
  7. Managing on my own – “I don’t want to feel alone in this”.
  8. Getting care right – “My concerns can be acted upon”

Through this initial co-design phase it became evident that while patients find it hard to define ‘dignity’ or ‘respect’, they are nonetheless very aware of behaviours that signify their opposite.

There was a high level of agreement between those involved about what the behavioural standards should look like. Staff too, were acutely aware of instances in which circumstances had prevented them meeting their own vocational standards.

The Macmillan Values Based Standard™ is structured around eight behavioural domains - these are set out in Box A. However, this condensed list merely provides the headlines for the framework. The framework should be regarded as process of change within an organisation. For each domain, the role of leadership is emphasised. Leaders need support staff to enact positive behaviours that patients say are important. They also need to role model behaviours that they in turn want staff to display, e.g. courteous communication.  The framework contains a ‘vocational-nudge’ to help staff to reflect their own behaviour. An excerpt from one of the standards is set out below by way of example.   

Standard Leadership Behaviour Vocational nudge Behaviour
Treatment and decision making – “I’d like to understand what will happen to me” Leaders listen to staff and involve them appropriately in negotiation of decisions which impact on their roles. “I have knowledge and you have knowledge: we will explore the options and negotiate the decisions.” Staff ensure that patients are given both the space and opportunity to raise questions – including those relating to alternative treatment options.

Work with regulators; professional organisations; higher education

Following the co-design stage of the framework, extensive work was undertaken with national organisations with a remit for quality and patients’ experience.  Macmillan Cancer Support worked closely with the Care Quality Commission, to support its inspectors to consider what dignity and respect looks like in practice and to influence them in considering how the relational aspects of care are assessed within the current regulatory framework. 

Work with commissioners concentrated on considering how the standards could be incorporated into commissioning frameworks such as CQUIN (the additional quality payments available for demonstrating quality improvement).  Importantly, these discussions also focused on how reference to the Macmillan Values Based Standard™ could change and influence the nature of the conversation between commissioners and providers.

Professional organisations such as The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) were also an important audience to engage.  Discussions focused on how the Macmillan Framework aligned with current RCN policy and guidance for their members.  In addition work is underway with higher education providers who develop and run undergraduate training for nurses and other healthcare providers.  The aim here is to embed the framework into the curriculum in order to influence the next generation of healthcare practitioners and clinicians.

Testing the implementation of the framework in a range of organisations

Once the framework was developed the third phase of the work was to ‘test’ the implementation of the standards in a range of healthcare provider organisations.  This is in order to answer the question ‘what difference do the standards make to patient and staff experience?’

Phase 1 test sites are set out in Box B.  A decision was made to work in two health economies:

  • London, because the National Cancer Survey indicates that cancer patients in London report a significantly poorer experience of care than in other part of the country.
  • Birmingham, where a Commissioner and a Hospice had shown interest in testing the framework. 

Phase 1. Test sites
  • Kings College Hospital Foundation Trust
  • University College London Hospital Foundation Trust
  • Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
  • John Taylor Hospice
  • Birmingham South Central CCG


All organisations opting to test the framework agree to co-design being central to the approach and to joining a collaborative through which they periodically share their learning and their progress.

Methodology of the Values-Based Standard

‘Sign up’ to test the framework was initiated through a senior person within the organisation, either CEO or Medical/Nursing Director.  The next part of the process was to identify an operational lead within the organisation with whom Macmillan could work on an on-going basis.  This person was instrumental in identifying the initial ‘test’ areas within the organisation.  Every test site was encouraged to adopt the same three-stage methodology, summarised below.

1. Discover: What is really going on here?

  • Use survey data, annual and real time
  • Work with staff – identify system failures Interview patients
  • Observation

2. Innovate: What interventions might help?

  • Staff and patients co-design interventions
  • Agree measurement systems •Small tests of change
  • Evaluate and refine

3. Improve: Measure, sustain and spread improvement

  • Develop measurement systems that ensure on-going improvement
  • Continually involve patients and staff in understanding ‘how we are doing’
  • Develop a plan for spreading good practice
  • Feedback results to front line staff and through corporate structures e.g. Board


1. Discover

The discovery phase of the work has been an important process, helping those involved really understand what patients and staff say and feel about their experience of either receiving or giving care.  Understanding experience from different perspectives can provide a powerful case for change.  

Staff and patients from one ward talking independently about ward rounds.

“We don’t always know when the doctor is doing the rounds….so I don’t know what the patient has been told.  This means I am cautious about what I say.”  Nurse in a staff workshop

“Sometimes on the ward I turn up to do my round and I just can’t find a nurse to come with me” Doctor at a ‘Grand Round’ discussion on the Values Based Standard.

“It often seems like the nurses and doctors don’t talk to each other, they don’t seem to know what each other have said or are planning” Patient interviewed on a ward

This work has been developmental for the staff involved.  In addition to learning new skills e.g. interviewing patients, staff are incorporating what they are learning into every-day practices such as hand-over.  For example reminding all staff ‘today we are focusing on responding to call bells’.   This relates directly to the standard ‘Acknowledge me if I am in need of urgent support’. 

At one site staff members have learnt how to interview and film patients. The patient story, captured through video, is then shown in staff development sessions. One theme, from these patients was their feelings of isolation whilst in hospital and their observation about how busy the staff seemed to be. One health care assistant, after one such session, said she had reflected on the film once back on the ward and had used the last hour of her shift to go and sit with each patient just to talk to them.

Measurement is an important aspect of phase 1 of the process as it provides the base-line from which staff are able to judge whether a change has led to real improvement in patient and staff experience.

2. Innovate

Whilst there are some improvements that can be acted upon by individuals immediately, others, such as the way the ward rounds are planned, need a multi-disciplinary approach, including the input of patients. This takes place in the second phase of the methodology: innovation.  This phase usually starts with a ‘way forward event’ involving a multi-disciplinary group of staff.  Prior to the event all data collected is analysed and themed in a process of triangulation to ensure that the feedback is robust.  Results are then presented to those attending the event and they then work in groups on each of the key areas arising.  

3. Improve

Following the ‘way forward event’ front-line staff members volunteer to lead the identified work areas.  The box below provides an example of six key work areas (all relate to various domains in the standard) identified through one ‘way forward’ event.  These five work areas were prioritised from more than 30 ideas generated

Example of key improvements resulting from ‘way forward’ event
  1. Improving ward lay out, chair placements, use of curtains etc for increased privacy and dignity
  2. Wider participation in MDT - looking at best practice in the hospital and thinking about how this can be replicated.
  3. Patient induction to the ward by other patients/ buddy systems
  4. Visual prompts to encourage feedback and alert people to an open culture where feedback is sought and welcomed.
  5. Systematic ways of inviting feedback from relatives and friends (including text), and documented dialogue with patients and relatives.
  6. More patient/family involvement in MDT rounds


Work then begins with staff and patients co-designing interventions. In practice this means a systematic improvement approach, using specific techniques including:

  • The co-design and testing of interventions such as those outlined in Box C that can be measured in terms of compliance and impact
  • Plan, Do, Study, Act methodology which includes rapid tests of change
  • Measurement systems that engage and provide ‘real-time’ feedback to those participating

In addition, to enable the vocational and reflective learning element of this work one site has released staff to attend a learning set throughout the duration of the initial interventions stage.

As well as testing interventions in terms of their impact on patient and staff experience, other steps include embedding the framework into organisational systems and processes, for example rewriting job descriptions and interview/assessment processes to reflect the values and including the framework in induction processes and appraisals.

The third stepping stone will be to sustain the improvements made and spread good practice within and beyond the organisation.

About this case study
Main Contact

Jagtar S Dhanda
Head of Inclusion
Macmillan Cancer Support

Jagtar S Dhanda and
Julie Wells wrote this case
study for Governance International on 27 June 2013.

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