NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 20, 2006

Whether or not the United Kingdom's National Health Service is granted greater independence from politicians, the vast sums of public money flowing into it demand close scrutiny.  The Labor government set up the Healthcare Commission to provide an independent check on the quality of NHS services in England.  On October 12th it delivered a damning indictment, says the Economist:

  • Almost half of the hospital trusts that provide acute care were rated only "fair" or "weak" on quality.
  • Primary-care trusts, which buy health care for the patients living in their areas, did even worse, with two-thirds in the lowest two categories.
  • A rating of "weak" -- the lowest grade possible -- means that the trusts have just 30 days to come up with an action plan to sort themselves out.

Unsurprisingly, after a year of headlines about health-service deficits, the financial performance was even worse.

  • More than four in ten hospitals, and a similar proportion of primary-care trusts, were rated weak in their use of resources.
  • However, foundation trusts -- high-performing hospitals that have been granted extra freedoms, including the ability to borrow money -- did well, with more than half rated excellent in their use of resources and none as weak.

The commission hopes that its findings will be used to help patients choose between hospitals, one of the government's main policies to improve the NHS.

The commission's findings are probably best interpreted as a useful guide to rather than a definitive imprimatur on NHS performance. The quest for better ways to measure the quality and effectiveness of doctors and hospitals must continue.  It is a priority not just in England but in all developed countries as the cost of medical care continues to soar, says the Economist.

Source: "A poor report card," Economist, October 12, 2006.

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