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Healthcare ratings across the UK – driver for change

May 25, 2010

No apologies for stating the obvious, but the UK NHS needs to improve. Parts are excellent – most is not. Ask any doctor, nurse or hospital manager – they can tell you where they’d be happy to be treated, and where they’d tell the ambulance driver to bypass if they were being taken for treatment.

Huge amounts of effort, money and top-down government imposition of targets has not had anything close to the impact it should have done. Indeed, over the last ten years the productivity of the NHS has fallen. During this time we have had the fatal tragedies at Mid-Staffs and Basildon Foundation Trusts – and these are just the ones we know of to date.

Last week the DH’s own research showed that the experience of being a patient in the NHS has actually got worse when compared with the previous twelve months – and these average figures hide the extremes.

On one level this is all good news. With so much variation, with so much room to improve, and so many patients (and staff) suffering in the NHS, there are clearly many areas to make improvements, save lives and – in the process – make the huge savings the NHS has to deliver.

But how to do it, how to make the changes and improvements that the NHS itself, led by “big Government” has failed to do in so many areas?

Openness, transparency and empowering patients and the public has massive potential to make the difference where central control has failed. The evidence is overwhelming from other countries and in other sectors that unlocking data and empowering patients in meaningful and innovative ways will drive the change. Last week’s coalition manifesto included the statements:

We will enable patients to rate hospitals and doctors according to the quality of care they received, and we will require hospitals to be open about mistakes and always tell patients if something has gone wrong

We will publish detailed data about the performance of healthcare providers online, so everyone will know who is providing a good service and who is falling behind.

It is worth reading these two again. They seem simple, perhaps even obvious, but they show an intent and understanding that is completely new and has, I believe, the potential to transform the NHS. In just a few years (maybe even less), people will look at these commitments and wonder how it could have taken so long for any healthcare system to embrace what will have become by then statements of the completely obvious and markers for excellence in healthcare.

Eighteen months experience enabling patients to provide ratings and reviews of UK doctors and hospitals at iWantGreatCare has shown how well such systems work. They empower patients, they inform those making health choices, and they drive improvements and efficiency from providers. Everyone wins.

That such systems and benefits are now to be part of Government policy – and will be combined with detailed performance of healthcare providers – is a bold and radical step that should be applauded and supported by all those seeking great care, and all those striving to deliver great care.

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