Government to be given performance ratings on key health policies

An independent panel of experts has been set up by MPs to give performance ratings for the Government’s handling of key health and social care policies.

The panel’s first piece of work will look at maternity services in England, an area which has seen a series of scandals in recent years.

The process is being established by the Commons Health and Social Care Committee and will involve policy specialists, patients and clinical experts.

It will produce Care Quality Commission-style ratings for the Government’s performance in meeting policy pledges, grading them from “inadequate” to “outstanding”.

The panel will be chaired by Dame Jane Dacre, professor of medical education at University College London.

Two other core members of the panel will be appointed, one with experience of representing patient concerns and another who is a policy expert.

Up to six extra members will be appointed for each inquiry, including service users, clinicians, policy experts and campaigners.

Further investigations could examine promises made in cancer treatment, mental health and patient safety.

Health and Social Care Committee chairman Jeremy Hunt – a former health secretary – said: “We are piloting a new CQC-style ratings system to provide an expert independent assessment of the Government’s record on key pledges.

“This will mean the Government is held to account by an evaluation process similar to that used across the NHS and social care system which gives not just an absolute score but key pointers as to how to improve that score next time round.

“We hope it will focus attention on areas such as cancer, mental health and patient safety where a number of vital commitments have been made.”

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt

Dame Jane told the PA news agency: “Government pledges are often made and are – in my view and the view of others – not always followed up.

“So to provide some kind of follow-up of that – how things are doing, what could be improved – is likely to improve the achievement of some of the pledges that are made.”

The inquiry into maternity services follows scandals such as the avoidable deaths of 11 babies and one mother at Cumbria’s Furness General Hospital between 2004 and 2013 and allegations of poor care at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust which are the subject of an official investigation and a police probe.

The MPs said they intend to establish the expert panel to consider Government commitments on maternity services in the autumn.

In a sign that the panel could prove to be a thorn in the side of the Government, one of the requirements for members is that they are “able to speak truth to power, and to respond effectively to challenge”.

Dame Jane said: “One of the reasons why Jeremy Hunt asked me to chair the panel was that I was the president of the Royal College of Physicians during the junior doctors industrial action and we did have some moments when he and I had to speak the truth to each other and we managed to do it civilly.”

The group will examine whether commitments have been met, if funding was adequate, did the goal improve things for patients and whether it was an appropriate aim in the first place.

Ratings will follow the CQC scale – inadequate, requires improvement, good and outstanding.

The MPs said: “The key to the success of this exercise, in our view, will be following up the panel’s report.

“Where the panel reaches the judgment that the Government’s performance against its commitments in a particular area is ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’, we expect the publication of that judgment to galvanise the department and its arm’s-length bodies to ensure improvement.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The NHS Long-Term Plan set out an ambitious plan to deliver an NHS that is fit for the future, backed by a record £33.9 billion extra a year by 2023-24.

“We recognise the need for a long-term solution for social care, and have committed to bringing forward a plan that puts the sector on a sustainable footing for the future.

“We continue to strive to improve services for patients at every stage of their life, from maternity to cancer, including working to halve stillbirths, maternal and neonatal deaths and serious brain injuries in babies by 2025 and detect more cancers at an earlier stage to save 55,000 lives every year.”