Private hospitals to follow NHS in publishing patient outcomes and death rates

Private hospitals will have to publish an annual “quality” report outlining how their patients have fared, David Nicholson, the National Health Service chief executive, has disclosed.

The move means that for the first time it will be possible to make direct comparisons between the quality of treatment in the two sectors.

Another side-effect should be more information than has previously been available on how many patients the private sector treats.

The requirement for private hospitals, like their NHS counterparts, to publish figures on death rates and other quality measures was revealed by Mr Nicholson to MPs on the Commons health committee. It follows the decision to bring the two halves of the system under the same regulatory umbrella from next year.

David Worskett, director of the NHS Partners Network, which represents private providers of NHS care, welcomed the move. He said yesterday that his members, which include Spire, Care UK, Nuffield Hospitals and General Healthcare, were commissioning “an independent sector-wide approach to collating and presenting patient outcome data”.

“Independent sector providers live or die by their quality,” he said, “so we have no problem at all with that. There may be some arguments over the technicalities of what is presented in annual quality reports and how. But there will be absolutely no argument about the principle.”

In a separate development, Mark Britnell, the health department’s director-general of commissioning, has written to the independent sector laying out more than a dozen areas where it can play a role in NHS care. The move is aimed at reassuring the providers that their role in supplying public services – apparently under threat last year – is assured.

He lists policy changes that could lead to business for the private sector, including the patient’s right to choose both treatment and providers, providing more information on the quality of care in both the NHS and private sectors, and piloting new integrated care organisations in which the private sector could play a role, along with opportunities to support NHS staff who leave the NHS to sell their services back through social enterprises.

In addition, the jobs of chief executive and chairman of a new competition and co-operation panel have been advertised at what are understood to be attractive salaries. The panel will act as an appeal body for the NHS, private and voluntary sectors if primary care trusts fail fairly to tender new or significantly changed services.

All these and more offer “real potential for private sector involvement”, Mr Britnell says in his letter.

Mr Worskett said his members had reservations about one or two of the items. But the private sector’s fear last autumn that its potential role in the NHS was shrinking as independent treatment centre contracts were being cancelled had diminished sharply.

“The feeling that it is all going backwards has gone away. A framework [for the independent sector] is now being put in place that looks much more robust for the future. There is still some uncertainty about the best way to achieve change. But there is absolutely no doubt now that the process is continuing and the position has stabilised,” he added.

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