Quango ties NHS trusts with more red tape

National Health Service trusts could face financial penalties, sacking of executives or even temporary stoppage of some services if they do not meet standards of care to be imposed from April next year.

The stern warning comes from the Care Quality Commission, the main health regulator, less than a year before a system is introduced that will require all the trusts to register with it.

Registration will give the commission more leverage, since it will be able to dictate, for example, that trusts have to improve in specific areas. Cynthia Bower, commission chief executive, said:”We will not hesitate to place conditions upon trusts’ registration, as part of our new statutory powers.”

A CQC spokeswoman elaborated by saying that if trusts failed to meet the new registration requirements “we could issue an on-the-spot fine, take a trust to court and fine them an even greater amount, look at imposing new management, look at closing particular services. We could say, ‘you could no longer carry out heart surgery for this period'”.

The commission’s warning comes as it publishes a report on whether trusts are meeting existing standards, expected to form the basis of the yet-to-befinalised registration requirements. The study, based on self-reporting, found that in the year to March 2009 about half the 392 trusts were not meeting at least one of the 44 minimum standards it demanded.

The next step is for the commission to test their claims. Last year it dis-agreed with trusts in 28 per cent of cases it inspected, judging that the trusts’ own estimates that they were reaching a particular level were over-optimistic.

Fewer trusts than the year before thought they were meeting minimum levels on “learning from safety incidents”. More than previously thought they met decontamination standards, although 11 per cent thought they still did not.

The proportion of flagship foundation trusts declaring compliance with all 44 criteria dropped by 6 percentage points to 66 per cent, although it remained much higher than for other trusts.


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