Figures prove that we’re improving

New figures reveal an important milestone achievement for independent sector healthcare quality and safety. David Hare reports.

Independent Practitioner Today readers will be more familiar than most with the significant emphasis, prioritisation and progress which has been made in recent years in ensuring that safe, high-quality care is embedded throughout the independent healthcare sector. 

The private sector in the UK has always maintained very high standards of safety and of quality of care, underpinned by a robust regulatory regime. 

But in recent times, and particularly in the aftermath of the Paterson saga, it was right and appropriate that we all took the opportunity to ask ourselves what more we could do to ensure that every stone was unturned to deliver the most robust governance and the highest possible commitment to outstanding patient care. 

Recent analysis we at the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN) have conducted shows that, while there is undoubtedly still work to do, the picture is more encouraging than ever. 

Our most recent research demonstrates that for the first time, nine out of ten independent hospitals have ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ overall ratings from the health and care watchdog, the Care Quality Commission (CQC). 

Ninety-one per cent of acute independent, non-specialist hospitals, who deliver a wide range of services to both NHS and private patients – including orthopaedics, oncology, ophthalmology, gynaecology, gastroenterology, dermatology and general surgery – have now been assessed as being in the top two categories overall for quality of care. 

Important marker

Reaching this milestone is an important marker for the sector.  

In 2018, the figure was 70%, so this shows a not insignificant positive change. And it is a clear demonstration of the sector’s strong commitment to continuous improvement around safety and quality.

Civica Medical Billing

We think it is a strong indication that the general standards of care and patient safety in the private sector are higher than they have ever been. 

I discussed this recently with two of my senior clinical director colleagues, Dr Howard Freeman (IHPN medical director) and Dawn Hodgkins (director of regulation, formerly a senior nurse), to get their views on where they felt the sector was  and what was still to do. 

They reflected positively on the improvements they had seen in the culture of many independent and private providers. 

There has been a better focus on creating an open, learning environment where improvement is actively sought, with greater openness and honesty – reflected by the fact that there are now nearly 230 Freedom to Speak Up Guardians operating across the sector.

Another highlight they cited is the improvements we have seen which come through improved clinical governance. We now have better systematic, written standards and frameworks and that is in no small part driving these improved ratings. 

Assurance framework

Readers will be familiar, of course, with the Medical Practi­tioners Assurance Framework (MPAF), launched in 2019 and refreshed at the end of 2022, which I have written about before in this journal. 

The embedding of the MPAF has been a great step forward. It has also been very positive to see how the GMC and CQC have recognised and endorsed the MPAF. It has informed how the CQC assesses how ‘well led’ independent services are and it is a requirement of the NHS standard contract too.

So, where next? It is very encouraging that our sector is achieving this level of consistent high performance. And I think it is a good indication that patients can really trust the quality of care in the independent sector. 

But we should all consider this just a step on the journey and redouble our existing efforts to maintain and improve these already high standards. So the journey does not stop here.

There is still more to do to work collaboratively and closely as a system, including with the NHS and with the key regulatory and professional standards agencies to make sure we are doing everything we can to deliver world-leading safety and quality of care to patients.

David Hare (right) is chief executive of the IHPN