Sector quality and safety at new high says report

New research published today (available here) shows that more independent hospitals are rated as “good” or “outstanding” than ever before, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and the subsequent period of health system recovery. 

IHPN conducted a national review of quality and safety data across the sector, looking at a broad range of datasets to evaluate quality and safety in key areas, analysing data from the Care Quality Commission (CQC). 

It found 92% of acute independent, non-specialist hospitals*; which deliver a wide range of services to both NHS and private patients; including orthopaedics, oncology, ophthalmology, gynaecology, gastroenterology, dermatology; and general surgery; are now in the top two categories overall for quality of care. 

This figure is up from 70% at the beginning of 2018, with more than double the number of hospitals now having been assessed (447 compared with 200 in 2018).  

A similar pattern of improvement was noted in other areas, such as providers’ core services, and in children’s and young people’s services, where standards are at similarly high levels compared with recent years.   

Dawn Hodgkins, Director of Regulation, said: “This research highlights that the general standards of care and patient safety in the independent sector are very high.  

“To see this improvement, despite the huge challenges presented by the pandemic and ongoing health system recovery, really demonstrates the commitment of clinicians and leaders across the independent sector to deliver the very best quality of care and the safest services.”   

IHPN Medical Director, Dr Howard Freeman said: “These are encouraging results, and are in many ways a reflection of the growing maturity of the sector and the impact of better clinical governance.  

“We have better systematic, written standards and frameworks – these are translating into the quality of service and care that patients are receiving. This is a firm foundation, but we must still be committed to yet more improvements.” 

The report also highlights the need for continued, consistent gathering and analysis of data.  

Hodgkins continued: “One of the important reasons we undertook this work was to highlight where it’s not so easy to find data or evidence, and in some ways, it’s as important to know where there may be gaps. We see a need for more consistency in the way that quality, safety and outcome data is collected.  

“That is why we have welcomed initiatives such as NHS England’s Outcomes and Registries Platform through which independent providers will be able to submit data alongside their NHS peers. We look forward to continuing our work with NHS England on that initiative to support participation by independent providers. 

“Our findings highlight the need for robust data, which includes all patients, regardless of who funds their care. There needs to be inclusion and parity across national audits, outcomes programmes and right across the patient pathway. To achieve this, we need to continue to develop the data landscape across the whole health system. 

Hodgkins concludes: ”This means things like submission to Learning from Patient Safety Events (LFPSE), submission to the Outcomes Registry Platform (ORP), building on the early work of the Acute Data Alignment Programme (ADAPt) and understanding the importance and potential impact of the Federated Data Platform to name a few areas.”   

The work comes against the backdrop of continued growth in demand for private healthcare, with recent figures showing record levels of patients going private for a whole range of operations and procedures.  

Other recent IHPN research found that more than 7 in 10 users of private healthcare felt positive about the sector. The quality of care was the second most significant thing that people liked about private healthcare, just behind the ability to be seen at short notice.  

The research also found that over 8 in 10 people (82%) who have paid themselves say they thought it was definitely, or probably worth the money – a reflection of the excellent quality of service and quality of care which the private sector provides, but also of the huge value that people place on their health and wellbeing. 

At the same time, the independent sector continues to play a vital partnership role working with and alongside the NHS to deliver high quality NHS care to patients, free at the point of access.