Public involvement in NHS inspections needs to go further

Sir Mike Richards is the new CQC Chief Inspector of Hospitals and he has announced his new plan to include patients in hospital inspection teams. This is a good idea, and means that although a hospital will know an inspection is on it’s way, it won’t know the exact timing. This gives people locally the chance to attend ‘Town Hall’ style meetings to share their experiences, praise and concerns ahead of the visit.

The idea’s strength rests on involving patients, thus increasing their confidence in local services and offering accountability. However it has it’s weaknesses too: Most people feel attached to their local services, and Sir Mike’s idea is to include a “50 mile rule” that will not allow local people to inspect local services. Call me parochial, but the public care most about what happens on their patch, not on the other side of the county. Added to this the traveling time will be a deterrent to those on low incomes (even though expenses are reimbursed) and older people. Bias is unavoidable; what matters is the evidence and experience for the bias and whether it stands up to scrutiny. You are as likely to get people unduly positive about a local service as negative.

There is a significant flaw as well (which was touched on as a need in Sir Bruce Keogh’s report) in that the inspection will not lead to real time feedback and improvements. We have some excellent live feed-back mechanisms already in hospitals (the DLS patient feedback app, electronic bedside experience reporting) and these should be mandated. Many issues can and should be resolved quickly. If you are an in-patient, it will be no consolation to you that is two years time, the service might be better. No other business would settle for this – and we must see the NHS as a business, invested in by you and me, and accountable for the way it’s spends our money and the service it delivers. Sir Bruce listed real-time feedback in his third ambition as one way hospitals can enable patients to be treated as equal and vital, confident that their feedback is being heard.

Last week I was in Washington DC looking at the Veteran Affair’s use of technology in their Health Administration. This included:

  • Truth point – bed side ipad-enabled feed-back run by volunteers
  • Hawkeye phones around the hospital – orange phones on which anyone can leave a message about their experiences
  • Ambassadors – staff from all levels spending 2 hours of their working day (for 60 days!) observing behaviour in their hospital and picking up immediately with everyone from porters to consultants on good and bad service.

All information is reviewed at 3pm by the officer in charge and by the Senior Management Team the next morning. Every day.  This, to be honest, is exactly what every NHS organisation should be doing daily.

We also need to recognise that the NHS desperately needs a fresh start. I am hugely concerned by some reckless MPs who are saying the NHS needs to be scrapped. Of course it’s not perfect, no system is, and all orgnisations need constant review for improvement. But have these MPs lived in another country and found a system, in totality, that is fairer, safer, better quality, better at training and with all-round better outcomes? I haven’t found one, and I write this as a daughter who saw her mother experience some fantastic care and some appalling neglect within the NHS.

Failure needs to be acknowledged but the current debate is dangerously politicised: the honest truth is that all governments have pressurised and manipulated the NHS for political gain. The fresh start should include dropping all process targets (e.g. 4 hour wait in A&E); truth and reconciliation events run in all Trusts; instigation of real-time feedback and accountability with results posted daily on each Trust’s website; patient involvement through inspection, patient held electronic records and personal health budgets; public clarity on who is responsible for what and how to get redress.

This all needs to be applied appropriately to primary and community care as well; the ambition for the NHS is for more people to be treated at home and they too need to have the reassurance that they too will receive high quality care that is inspected and kept accountable. Politicians may have handed over many levers for change to quasi-independent organisations, but Ministers still hold the purse-strings. Without demanding real time data, they cannot know what they are paying for.

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About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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