Headlines: November 1st, 1999

The NHS has avoided independent scrutiny of its clinical activities since it was founded 50 years ago. It is now falling into line with all other public services with the launch of the Commission for Health Improvement, which has a similar appearance to OFSTED, the schools inspectorate. Chaired by Dame Derdrie Hine and Directed by Peter Homa, former leader of the Hospital Waiting List Task Force, the Commission will examine the quality of care from the patients’ point of view.The initial programme requires that all hospitals, community health trusts, health authorities and primary care groups will be inspected in the next four years. Cancer is a top priority area and a report is due early in 2001.

The Commission has wide powers. It can investigate immediately where there are serious problems and send in a support team to turn round an under-performing service. It can also insist on the immediate implementation of an action plan for the rapid improvement of a hospital. The names of individual doctors and others can be passed to the relevant professional bodies to take disciplinary action. As a last resort, the Commission has power to sack the board of a hospital trust or health authority if they do not make the improvements needed.