Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told independent acute hospitals that “urgent action” is needed in response to a critical report on the sector from regulators.
In a letter to the chief executives of independent healthcare providers, Mr Hunt has ordered urgent action to be taken to improve patient safety.
He has given the sector’s leaders two weeks to respond and set out what action they will take, following the publication of a report last month by the Care Quality Commission.
The CQC report on the quality and safety of provision at the more than 200 independent acute settings found most were providing good care, with 70% rated “good” or “outstanding”.
However, it also identified “clear scope for improvement”, given that nearly a third – 30% – of the providers that it looked at in England were currently rated as “requires improvement”.
Mr Hunt highlighted that patient safety was the biggest concern raised by the regulator, following examples seen by inspectors of poor practice and unsafe care.
“We need urgent assurances that the independent sector will get its house in order on safety”
He said: “The NHS has been on a long and hard journey to transform the safety and quality of care in the wake of Mid Staffs, and has now been ranked the safest health system in the world.
“The CQC report suggests that there is a real risk this progress is not being matched by equally high standards in parts of the independent sector,” said Mr Hunt.
The health and social care secretary told hospital chief executives he was seeking their “co-operation on a number of vital safety and quality issues”.
Comparing intervention when NHS trusts were failing, he said he would look at “similarly robust action” to ensure rapid improvement from private providers offering inadequate care.
He also called for “much greater transparency” from the independent sector, citing progress made by the NHS on publishing surgical outcomes per clinician and avoidable deaths per hospital trust.
“I am disappointed by the variation in voluntary progress to address the disparity of information on standards in private settings,” he said.
Mr Hunt noted the positive impact that the Private Healthcare Information Network was starting to have, but said he wanted specific assurances that every provider was submitting comprehensive data sets to it.
“We will explore whether the reporting requirements need to be strengthened to make them comparable with the NHS,” he said.
“We will explore whether the reporting requirements need to be strengthened”
In addition, he stated he was “not convinced” that the NHS was getting “fair remuneration” in cases where it was “obliged” to deal with the consequences of negligent care from the private sector.
Meanwhile, he flagged critical care and transfers to the NHS, noting that the CQC had found many private providers lacked “appropriate escalation processes or transfer agreements is unacceptable”.
“All healthcare providers dealing with more routine procedures need to have clear processes for managing deterioration and for escalation,” said Mr Hunt.
Lastly, his letter urged the sector to make a “meaningful contribution” to the government’s apprenticeship programme and aid he would be “grateful for an update on your work in this area”.
In a statement accompanying the letter, he said: “If the sector is to partner with the NHS and benefit from our world-leading medical training, we need urgent assurances that the independent sector will get its house in order on safety, as well as a commitment to take rapid action to match the NHS’s world-recognised progress on transparency.”