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Do good doctors want “a softer line on transparency”?

June 9, 2011

I’m perplexed and confused.
It has been reported that the CIO of the Department of Health said her “Information Strategy” may need “a softer line on transparency” to secure the support of clinicians.
1. What is “a softer line on transparency”? It sounds like less transparency to me, or perhaps keeping things as they are, or maybe not releasing data which will expose poor care and variation in quality. I’m just a stupid doctor, but I really don’t understand.
2. Seems a bit odd to be agreeing to less transparency in the same weeks that truly horrific stories come out about awful care in nursing homes, and continued failures of Trusts across the country to provide even basic care to their elderly patients.
3. And only a few months ago the Kings Fund highlighted “unacceptable variation” in the quality of GP care in the UK. How will “a softer line on transparency” help improve these things?
4. The focus on transparency and sharing outcomes has been at the core of Andrew Lansley’s plans and he confirmed at a conference in Birmingham in April that he expects every NHS organisation to publish performance data and enable digital technologies to drive patient choice. Can’t do this if we go soft on transparency.
5. I don’t understand how “going soft on transparency” will help us detect and prevent the next Bristol or Mid-Staffs. Could someone explain that to me please?
6. But I don’t blame Christine Connelly as she was careful to point out that this might be needed to “secure the support of clinicians”. Who are these clinicians who want to maintain the continuously failing systems? Which doctors are scared of openness and transparency? Maybe they are like the MPs who didn’t want transparency about the expenses system?

This is really puzzling, especially as I thought the NHS was about meeting the needs of patients, not the needs of the doctors’ union. Every survey ever done has shown that the public wants more information and openness about their NHS, and all the research shows that such openness improves quality and outcomes.

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