Health secretary Andrew Lansley may be under fire for his NHS reorganisation plans, but he yesterday sent out a clarion call for far more information to be published to drive up the quality of healthcare.
Speaking at the HC2011 event in Birmingham, Lansley said he would require NHS organisations to be far more transparent.
Echoing some of the themes of the initial launch of the ‘Liberating the NHS’ white paper, and the subsequent consultation on ‘An Information Revolution’, Lansley said NHS organisations would be required to publish performance and quality data.
This would mean: “Not polishing, not spinning, just publishing,” he said.
Lansley pointed to the example set by the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery, whose members have opted to publish their outcomes and to encourage cardiothoracic surgery units to benchmark themselves.
Since this exercise started, death rates following cardiothoracic surgery have halved and are now 25% lower than the European average.
The health secretary admitted there was a danger of overreaction to data. “It will cause difficulties; it will cause embarrassments,” he acknowledged.
But he also forecast that there would be positives, in which data showed up areas where the NHS had “hidden its light under a bushel.”
Lansley said information would also allow patients to make genuinely informed choices, but insisted that in the coming NHS market, providers would compete not on price but quality of services.
“If you are a patient, do you really want to go to your local hospital if you know you can get better care at one further away?” he asked. “Do you want send your child? It’s your choice.”
Digital technologies will drive efficiencies and ensure the public are able to access NHS services in new ways, the health secretary added.
For example, he predicted that: “Millions of people will be able to avoid hospital admissions through use of telecare.”
And he said that freely publishing NHS data will give rise to a market in “infomediaries”, who will develop services that interpret and add value to data.
To achieve these goals, though, the NHS must become quicker to adopt new technology.
During his speech, Lansley repeatedly named a range of new information technologies innovations he has been impressed by, ranging from Intel cloud computing to software from Sandhill for GP commissioning.
Yet he compared adoption in the health service to “a convoy where everyone moves at the pace of the slowest.”
“Instead, we should be moving to be able to promote first mover advantage, so that providers can get an advantage from early adoption of technologies,” he said, adding that the role of government would be to remove barriers and make sure the right incentives were in place.
NHS information strategy is clearly ground that Lansley is comfortable with, and thought long and hard about.
When he speaks about how information must underpin NHS reform, he is assured and convincing.
When he told his Birmingham audience that he would have liked to spend two days at the recent Innovation Expo, it was easy to believe him.
This, combined by the fact he took a wide range of questions, which he sought answer, meant he strengthened his reputation among at least one group of NHS professionals this week.
BCS Health Group chair, Matthew Swindells, commented: “It’s a mark of the man that he chose to be here talking to the NHS, rather than down in London talking to the media.”