He leaves a PHIN legacy

After more than nine years as the chairman of the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN), Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen has announced his intention to step down. 

He believes PHIN has an important role in ensuring greater transparency across private healthcare by collecting and publishing information on performance measures under a mandate from the Competition and Markets Authority. 

Here he reflects on his time with the organisation and tells Independent Practitioner Today what that has meant for the landscape of private healthcare – and what PHIN’s future holds for consultants offering private services.

It was nearly ten years ago that PHIN’s chief executive Matt James asked me to take up the position of chairman. 

This was before the publication of the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) Private Healthcare Market Order in 2014, but private sector providers had already come together to establish the Hellenic Group to start thinking about how the production of comparable information to private-sector patients could be achieved. 

I had been a vocal advocate within the UK for the value of Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs) and other measures of clinical performance, so becoming involved as the first chairman of PHIN’s board, after my retirement from Bupa, provided an exciting opportunity to take this work forward in the private sector. 

The publication of the CMA order gave us a clear agenda to pursue, working with stakeholders across the sector, and what turned out to be an interesting and sometimes challenging journey.

PHIN has achieved many things over those years, not least the establishment of an excellent board and executive team led by Matt, who as Independent Practitioner Today has reported, is stepping down this year. Working with people who have similar professional values and a passionate belief in the mission has been a great privilege. 

Informed choice

The challenge of engaging with many competing providers to gain agreement to new ways of processing data, to common standards and definitions and, above all, to building a data-set designed to enable patients to make informed choices was slowly overcome. 

That said, although much progress has been made, so far it has taken four years longer than the CMA’s original target, and there is no immediate date for final delivery of the complete set of information for patients and people considering their care options.

PHIN has built a reputation in the sector as an advocate for the patient and consumer-centred approach laid out by the CMA and I am proud of that advocacy. 

This is evidenced by our engagement with the Paterson Review and Baroness Cumberlege’s review First do no harm and I am particularly proud of PHIN’s website, achieving more than 20,000 visitors a month since the relaunch, without promotion,  which is a great achievement for the team. 

I am convinced that the private sector does provide high-quality care and treatment and, as I look towards stepping down from my role as chairman, I only wish we could be collecting more consistent high-quality data to demonstrate that quality and that we could fill the obvious gaps on the website. 

Unfortunately, following an initial burst of enthusiasm and engagement from consultants, too many remain unaware that there are legal obligations that fall on them to engage with PHIN. 

Clearly, consultants have a really important role in helping patients and consumers make informed choices. 

While they have legal obligations, I would hope consultants will increasingly see the important role they play in ensuring that patients have access to information about safety, quality, and price.

More consumer-centric

The world is becoming more consumer-centric and, frankly, private healthcare is a consumer market which must keep up with increasing customer demand to know and understand the quality offered within the sector. 

The key challenge for PHIN going forward is to continually improve our process for constructive, strategic engagement with consultants and providers, which concentrates on delivery of the CMA order’s requirement to publish comprehensive, comparable information to help consumers and patients to make informed choices, within a clearly defined time-scale.

Jayne Scott

I am confident that our new chairwoman, Jayne Scott, can take PHIN forward positively, building on the progress already made; her first challenge being the appointment of a new chief executive. I wish Jayne well in what is likely to remain a challenging period for PHIN in the time being.

For my part, I intend to continue to advocate for the further development of PHIN’s data-based, website and its widespread promotion, and I hope this will start to be seen as an asset for consultants wanting to promote their services. 

I will also continue to promote the use of PROMs across our healthcare system. It has been good to see the progress, particularly by some specialties, towards the routine use of PROMs and measurement of quality-of-life following treatment.

But more needs to be done to get listening to and acting on the objective feedback of patients into the mainstream. 

You have not heard the last of me yet!