Headlines: January 16th, 2001

Measuring the performance of public services is moving from the dark age of crude arithmetic and into a new era of readily accessible information. The new sophisticated approach is being pioneered in the police and health service services.A major weakness of performance measurement is the difficulty of making comparative judgements between organisations, because other factors influence the outcome. To overcome this problem Channel 4 commissioned Leeds University to analyse the crime figures produced by the Home Office, taking into account the level of deprivation in the respective police areas. From the analysis a national performance league table was produced. The TV documentary programme revealed how the league leaders had achieved their outstanding performances and showed the bottom of the league forces relying on more traditional approaches to policing.

Hospital performance information has been produced by Dr Foster (www.drfoster.co.uk) a content provider company which generates income from selling content to newspapers, other publications and websites. Data about mortality, numbers of doctors, nurses and beds, waiting times and complaints supplied by NHS Trusts in the UK and hospitals in the Republic of Ireland was analysed to produce sets of indicators. Data on mortality has been adjusted to take account of critical factors beyond the hospital’s control affecting whether a patient lives or dies. There is no league table of hospitals, but comparisons can be made between hospitals for each category of data. The analysis was overseen by an independent ethics committee made up of eminent figures from many areas of the medical profession. Part 1 of the Good Hospital Guide was published in the Sunday Times on 14 January 2000 and Part 2 will be published on 21 January.

This development of taking official data and adding value to it represents a breakthrough in measuring performance, but it is still at an early stage of development. Thames Valley police, responsible for a bottom of the league area claim that other factors influencing the outcome have not been taken into account. There are likely to be other police forces and hospitals that believe they are not being judged on a level playing field, but he principal of adding value has been established.

The way is open now for extending the public sector measurement adding value market. Dr Foster is considering venturing into the wider care market. Education is also a prime area for this to be done. Performance information is a very blunt instrument for comparing schools. Northern Ireland has closed the door on school performance information by the Education Minister’s decision that it should not be published centrally.