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December 7, 2011 5:58 pm
Andrew Lansley has evoked TripAdvisor, the hotel-rating website, as a model for the way information could be delivered to patients to help them choose a family doctor.
In future, the National Health Service would be measured against 60 indicators of whether patients were satisfied with their treatment, its quality and the speed of their recovery, the health secretary said on Wednesday.
The move was part of a new approach designed to improve the focus on quality of care for patients.
Mr Lansley suggested that by making more data available, the government was paving the way for innovations in the way the service was used, citing websites such as Dr Foster and iWantGreatCare.org, where patients can rate their own experience of care, helping others to find the best hospitals and doctors.
“We are inviting people to use their creativity and ingenuity, and to surprise us with what they come up with,” he said in a speech at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals in London.
He continued: “Once, people relied on the recommendation of a travel agent – now they take control with sites like TripAdvisor.”
Since 2007, patients have been able to post comments on, and rate hospitals, via a website called NHS Choices. This has since been extended to all health services, including GPs, dentists, pharmacists and opticians.
That information would now be supplemented by an easy-to-use map of GP practices that would help patients to identify the best practice for them, said Mr Lansley. Another map of local health services would show patients where they could access a choice of qualified providers for their care under an “Any Willing Provider” policy.
The moves came under fire from Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary. Doctors and nurses would “roll their eyes in sheer disbelief” that the government that had “promised to scrap NHS targets now loads 60 new targets on an NHS already under severe pressure,” he said.
“No organisation can be expected to absorb 60 new targets when it is already facing such unprecedented upheaval,” he added.
Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, also raised fears about additional obligations on the NHS.
He said: “We certainly welcome the government’s commitment to improving patient outcomes and the focus on giving patients much more information about their care. However, it is vital that these benchmarks do not turn into additional targets that will place further pressure on an already stretched NHS workforce.”
Responding to a question from an audience of health professionals about whether the new indicators would impose a further burden on an already overstretched health service, Mr Lansley said much of the information that would now become part of the formal NHS “outcomes framework” was already being collected. However, “we are adding some new things”, including asking young people from five to 16 how they rated their care and also seeking views about care for the terminally ill.
Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, an umbrella body, said the measurements would allow trusts to take “a more rounded view on the quality of care” provided to patients.
But he added: “Having a discussion with NHS leaders about the practicalities of achieving these outcomes is crucial if the Department of Health is to guarantee they do not add another burden on trusts already grappling with substantial data submissions and trying hard to keep their management costs to a minimum.
“The government needs to be aware that it will take time for improvements in care to show up in this new system. This framework will require a certain amount of flexibility in how things are initially measured, and also in the way NHS organisations are recognised and rewarded for the outcomes they achieve.”
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