Private units improve their watchdog rating

By Douglas Shepherd

Nine out of ten independent hospitals have – for the first time – achieved the top two ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ overall ratings from the Care Quality Commission (CQC). 

Analysis by the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN) has shown that 91% of acute independent, non-specialist hospitals have now been assessed as being in the top two categories overall for quality of care.

Reaching the milestone of more than 90% being rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ – a rise from 70% in 2018 – is seen as an important marker for the sector and a demonstration of a strong commitment to continuous improvement around safety and quality.

The other CQC ratings are ‘inadequate’ and ‘requires improvement’.

Dawn Hodgkins

Dawn Hodgkins, IHPN director of regulation, said: ‘Despite the huge challenges presented by the pandemic and ongoing health system recovery, this demonstrates the commitment of clinicians and leaders across the independent sector to deliver the very best quality of care and the safest services. 

‘I’ve been really encouraged by the improvements I’ve seen in the culture of many providers, where there’s been a better focus on creating an open, learning environment where improvement is actively sought, with greater openness and honesty.’ 

She said a good indication of this were the increasing numbers of providers’ Freedom To Speak Up (FTSU) Guardians, now numbering nearly 230.

Dr Howard Freeman

IHPN medical director Dr Howard Freeman said: ‘One of the key ways we have seen improvements is through better clinical governance. We now have better systematic, written standards and frameworks and that is now showing up in providers’ CQC ratings which is incredibly pleasing.’

The Medical Practitioners Assur­ance Framework (MPAF), launched in 2019 and refreshed late last year, is seen as having made important contributions to safety improvements. 

Led by former National NHS Medical Director, Sir Bruce Keogh, the MPAF contains key principles to strengthen and build on medical governance systems already in place in the sector. It sets out expected practice in a number of key areas, which providers are expected to adhere to.

Dr Freeman added: ‘The embedding of the MPAF has been a great step forward. It’s 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’s a requirement of the NHS standard contract too.’

IHPN chief executive David Hare said the 91% achievement was a strong indication that the general standards of care and patient safety in the private sector were higher than they had ever been. 

‘Achieving this level of consistent high performance is really encouraging. It’s a good indication that patients can really trust the quality of care in the independent sector. 

‘But we know providers are committed to maintaining and improving these already high standards, so the journey doesn’t stop here.