A new research project, led by researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of York and funded by the National Institute for Health Research, starts this month.

The project team will examine the quality and safety of patient care in NHS and independent hospitals and the way that systems for overseeing clinical care and sharing information work in practice.

The research will build on reforms led by both NHS Digital and the PHIN which will create a single dataset for all admitted patient care across all acute hospitals. The research team plan to use existing routine data to explore patterns of care provision and patient flows, to examine the scope of practice of doctors working across both sectors, and any differences in quality of care. Through national surveys of hospital leaders and on-site qualitative fieldwork they will explore how reforms to clinical governance are working and how information is used in practice to support quality improvement. Qualitative research will also examine patients’ experiences of care across the NHS and independent sectors. The way the NHS and independent sector work together has changed substantially during the COVID pandemic and this research will provide a first opportunity to study those changes.

Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, who chairs the project advisory group and as former chief medical officer of BUPA has been a longstanding advocate of quality and outcomes measurement, said: “This is important research considering safety and quality in both NHS and independent hospitals in one project. Hospitals in both sectors now collect enough relevant data for quantitative analysis and useful comparisons to be made. These, in addition to in-depth qualitative analysis, will provide evidence to enable the two sectors to learn from each other, strengthen practical clinical governance and bring opportunities for clinical quality improvement.”

Dr Howard Freeman, medical director of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network said: “Patient safety is the top priority for all independent healthcare providers, with almost nine in ten independent sector hospitals currently rated good or outstanding by the CQC. And with the sector playing an increasingly important role in meeting the rising demand for both NHS and privately-funded treatments, this research will help ensure that all parts of the healthcare system work together as effectively as possible so that patients get the best possible care, regardless of where they are treated”.

Dr Jon Fistein, PHIN’s Chief Medical Officer, said: “We are delighted to be part of this project, as it will provide important insights into how healthcare is delivered and governed in both the NHS and private sectors.”

Professor Kieran Walshe from the University of Manchester, who is leading the research, said: “The research follows up on changes which have followed the Paterson inquiry and other reports highlighting the need for good clinical governance across the interface between NHS and independent hospitals. This is a complex area where good evidence of what works is much needed”.

Professor Karen Bloor from the University of York said: “This project will be the first major study to make use of data about inpatient care from both NHS and independent hospitals to look at the whole scope of medical practice and to explore differences and variations within and across hospitals. It is an exciting step forward in understanding the quality of care.”

The development of the research has had close involvement and support from a range of stakeholder organisations (the Independent Healthcare Provider Network, the Care Quality Commission, NHS Digital, the Private Healthcare Information Network, the General Medical Council, NHS England) and from our patient and public involvement forum.

Was this article useful?