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Nurses to play key role in future healthcare regulation

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Nurses will play a key role in preventing another clinical catastrophe like the one that occurred at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, according to the head of the new health and social care regulator.

On 1 April the new ‘super regulator’, the Care Quality Commission, officially took over from the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission.

Speaking to Nursing Times, last week CQC chief executive Cynthia Bower said the commission would focus on ensuring the concerns of patients and staff were heard and acted on more effectively.

Ms Bower said that the CQC would learn from the failings at Mid Staffordshire hospital and be much more rigorous about checking hospitals’ own assessments of their standards against patient feedback and other data.

‘The real lesson from Mid Staffs was that there was a patient voice that was not being heard – that was not tapped into until right at the very point that [the Healthcare Commission] came in to do the investigation,’ Ms Bower told Nursing Times.

‘The thing that what we have all got to do – at the commission, at board level and frontline clinical staff – is think about how that voice is heard,’ she said.

She particularly highlighted the role of the nurse as patient advocate. ‘One thing that nurses are good at is making representations on behalf of the patient – we must always try and think about things from the point of view of the patient,’ she said.

Ms Bower also emphasised the government’s focus on quality under the NHS Next Stage Review. ‘No one can say in an environment that is focused on quality that they can’t communicate – there will be every opportunity for [nurses] to make their voices heard,’ she said.

‘We will also look for other information, such as patient surveys, staff surveys, data about hospitals to ensure we are clear about what is going on,’ she added.

Ms Bower also told Nursing Times that she wanted to work with nursing and other healthcare organisations to draw up a set of quality standards, which hospitals and other NHS organisations would have to sign up to in the next financial year.

From 2010–2011, it will be a legal requirement for all trusts to register with the regulator to operate. Successful registration will be based on compliance with a range of standards on safety and quality. To maintain their registration, providers will also need to demonstrate an ongoing ability to meet all the requirements. Those that fall short will face tough new sanctions including fines and suspension of services.

However, compliance with standards on healthcare-associated infection is an immediate registration requirement. The CQC is currently consulting on how to implement the overall new registration system.

Ms Bower said: ‘What I hope is that nurses representing organisations get in touch with us. We will be talking to people over the next six months about the new registration requirements – that is something we want to start a debate with all the professions about.’

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