Patients given a say in hospital shake-up

The performance of NHS trusts in England will in part be assessed by patients as part of new plans drawn up by the Healthcare Commission.

It proposes scrapping the current star ratings system, in an attempt to cut red tape, replacing it with a system of random inspections and yearly self-assessments, which will include comments from patient groups.

Inspections and random spot checks would only be carried out on trusts deemed to have problems, although each of England’s 572 trusts would be required to produce annual self-assessments.

It is estimated that 20 per cent of trusts will be inspected or undergo a spot check in the course of a year. From September 2006, trusts will be given a rating of excellent, good, fair or weak.

Star ratings, introduced in 2001, proved unpopular with NHS staff as they required trusts to spend up to £150,000 compiling data on a range of targets. The commission reportedly believes the current system is weighted too heavily on performance targets.

Trusts will be judged on government targets under the new plans, but they will also be assessed on a new range of core standards covering issues like safety, cleanliness and accessible and responsive care.

Healthcare Commission chairman Sir Ian Kennedy said: “We have created a system to identify poor performance without fettering those doing well.”

The watchdog also said it intended to bring the independent sector into line over the next two years with the introduction of new legislation.

The Conservatives said the Healthcare Commission’s finding proved they were right to say that star ratings should be abolished.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Now we must move forward by cutting back on Mr. Blair’s central targets, inspectorates and inspections, and halve the number of communications distributed from the centre.”