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NHS and private hospitals to face same tests

Healthcare Commission moves to bring private healthcare sector into line with more spot checks

New plans to bring private hospitals into line with National Health Service (NHS) standards by introducing new inspections and regulations, have been announced by the Healthcare Commission (HC).

The HC says the new testing system is intended to ìfurther improve and modernise the regulation of the independent healthcare sectorî.

The HC, which inspects the NHS and provides licences to the private sector, believes that one in seven non-emergency patients will be treated in the private sector by 2008. If that turns out to be the case, the NHS will become the biggest source of funding/payment in private sector health. Such a radically altered public-private health relationship has forced the HC to try to create a `level playing field' for the NHS and private hospitals.

At present NHS hospitals are tested for one year every three or four years, as well as receiving occasional spot checks. Tests can be carried out with such infrequency because a certain level of trust and consistency has been built up over the years.

Independent hospitals, by contrast, are checked annually, albeit on a single one-off inspection. The new regulations will call for all hospitals to self-declare a `level of risk'. Inspections will then be carried out based on that declaration, coupled with some unplanned spot checks.

As time progresses, good independent hospitals will be allowed to build up a level of trust similar to NHS hospitals, and will, consequently, receive less frequent tests and inspections.

The proposals are part of the HC's ambitions to `phase in change at a manageable paceÖtowards truly equivalent standards and assessments by 2008î.

Anna Walker, Chief Executive of the HC, said that the main goal was for all services to be assessed against the same government-set standards, ìso that all patients have consistent unambiguous assurance on core aspects of careî.

ìThe healthcare system is changing and regulation of it must change too,î she added.

The HC said that it will consult with patients, the public and healthcare professionals over the next few months and might modify any new proposals it has planned based on those discussions.

30th September 2008

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