NHS hospitals are warned on core standards

Almost a third of National Health Service hospitals risk being refused a licence to operate because they are still not meeting core standards of safety, effectiveness cleanliness and record keeping, the Healthcare Commission, the NHS inspectorate warned.

The failure fully to cover the basics comes despite a big improvement in the health service’s performance over the past three years, the commission said in its annual “state of the nation” report on the NHS.

From April 2010, NHS hospitals and organisations will go through a registration system that will issue them with a licence to operate.

But while two-thirds of NHS organisations and 70 per cent of acute hospitals meet all the core standards laid down by the Department of Health, and a further 25 per cent are judged to be almost there and therefore likely to meet the standard for registration, about 10 per cent of NHS organisations and hospitals are still some way from the target.

“If they don’t meet these core standards,” said Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Healthcare Commission, “then the Care Quality Commission could withdraw registration or impose tough penalties such as fines or operating conditions.

“I would urge trusts to get their act together with all appropriate urgency.”

Baroness Young, chairman of the Care Quality Commission, which next April replaces the Healthcare Commission as the inspectorate, has said she thinks it “very unlikely” that an entire NHS hospital will be refused a licence to operate.

“I doubt there will be many to whom we say: up with this we cannot put; we will not register you,” she has said.

But hospital departments and services could find themselves operating under strict conditions and improvement plans, with the inspectorate holding tougher enforcement powers than the existing one. The warning that a small minority of NHS organisations have a long way to go to hit standards came as the inspectorate’s annual check showed significant overall improvements in performance.


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