A new commission for health improvement will act to protect patients from unacceptable failings in the NHS, according to health minister, Alan Milburn. Milburn said there had been recent examples of unacceptable standards, namely the breakdown of breast screening in Exeter and cervical screening in Canterbury. He said the Commission for Health Improvement would have the power to investigate and intervene as “a tool of last resort” where there are persistent problems in hospitals.
Trouble-shooting areas are expected to include hospitals which has high emergency readmissions, those which had exceptionally high running costs and raised hospital premature mortality rates. Emergency admissions for the over 75s are seen as an important measure of hospital discharge and community care arrangements.
Labour claims it is changing the emphasis of how hospitals are assessed. Rather than merely counting the number of patients treated and financial efficienty, the government says it will focus on what treatment means for the well-being of patients.
Milburn has outlined a new five point quality programme for the NHS, which entails:
• Patients to be guaranteed national standards of excellence • The government will develop National Service Frameworks setting out patterns and levels of services which should be provided for patients with certain conditions
• New clinical governance arrangements will be developed in every NHS Trust to guarantee an emphasis on quality
• New standards of quality and efficiency will be made explicit in local agreements between health authorities, primary care groups and trusts.
• The new commission will be able to intervene to investigate and identify problems, on the direction of the health secretary or by invitation from primary care groups, health authorities and trusts.
Milburn said an independent source such as the commission could quickly get to the root of a serious clinical problem and identify ways of solving them. He added: “We will look at the issue of success and failure from the patient’s point of view – failure will not be tolerated.”