Friday, July 27, 2007

The private sector and the NHS - some unreported good news

I can't recall any coverage in the media last week when the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection published its report on the work of the Independent Sector Treatment Centres (pdf available). Given the controversy associated with a mixed economy in NHS funded care, it would have been useful if this Healthcare Commission had been given a wider airing.

This week there was a mention in the
Guardian focusing on the data issues raised by the report:

Last week, a report by the Healthcare Commission, which monitors NHS and private health services, criticised the £5bn ISTC programme for failing to provide information that would allow the clinics' work to be compared with similar services in the NHS.

Interestingly the Guardian didn't highlight the fairly glowing feedback from patients.

The report found that of the 33 issues explored in the patient survey, patients assessed ISTCs consistently better than the NHS on 28 of them.

In some areas the ratings were substantially better.

  • 98% of those surveyed said the toilets and bathrooms were “very clean” or “fairly clean” in ISTCs, compared to 92% in the NHS
  • 65% of those surveyed said they were given a choice of admission date in ISTCs compared to 27% in the NHS
  • 96% of those surveyed said they were told who to contact if they were worried about their treatment in ISTCs compared to 76% in the NHS
  • 98% of those surveyed said that there were enough nurses on the wards in ISTCs compared to 92% in the NHS

This is not to say that ISTCs (or the private sector more generally) is better. ISTCs were to some extent set up as treatment factories without complications such as emergency cases disrupting operating theatre scheduling. But the feedback does indicate that ISTCs (and the public sector) can deliver in a mixed economy.

Hopefully the report may contribute to ending some of the prejudice surrounding reform of public services. If so, it may be too late as the government seems to be turning against private sector involvement in the NHS.

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