The Conservative Party would remove NHS Choices from Department of Health control and force it to compete on the same terms as other healthcare information providers.
In a document promising An NHS Information Revolution to Save Lives, the party says NHS Choices is failing to get adequate information to managers, clinicians and patients and that it is not sufficiently independent.
“Because private and third sector providers have clearly shown they are far better at providing and disseminating information than the public sector, we will end the dominance of NHS Choices and open up the market for the provision of information to any willing provider,” it says.
“Information providers will be able to compete on a level playing field for any government funding and will have equal access to all NHS information that the NHS Board decides should be collected.”
The information revolution document appeared on the Conservative Party website as party leader David Cameron travelled to Stafford to address the ‘Cure the NHS’ campaign group that was set up to lobby for improvements at Mid Staffordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
The document argues that the recent Healthcare Commission investigation into high death rates and poor care at the trust identified a lack of information as a major problem.
It says that even where information is collected, it is “produced for managers not patients” and promises that, should the Conservatives come to power, better data, websites and services for the ‘digitally excluded’ will be created.
It says the aim will be to “empower patients and drive up standards in NHS care, both in hospitals and in the community.” However, some of its proposals echo steps that have already been taken by the present government.
For example, it says there will be “critical quality measures” that the Care Quality Commission will combine with other data and service standards, in order to assess the performance of hospitals and other healthcare providers.
It says patients will have access to this information “at the level of individual hospitals and, in some cases, individual departments within them” in order to make choices about their treatment.
It also says ‘patient reported outcome measures’ would be developed to collect patient views through surveys and that patients would be allowed to “give immediate feedback to hospitals.”
An initial set of PROMS was launched recently, while NHS Choices and independent alternatives already allow patients to feedback on hospital and GP services.
However, the paper says “a new and independent national voice” called Healthwatch would be set up to approve PROMS questions and to avoid “political manipulation” of the questions.
The paper also proposes giving money to charities and community groups to get health information to excluded groups, and trialling ‘information outreach centres’ to ‘cold-call’ people about health issues.
Cameron also called for a “full-scale, root-and-branch” inquiry into what went wrong at the Mid Staffordshire.