Politicians “often act as a barrier” to essential NHS reforms, The King’s Fund has claimed.
The body has called for sweeping changes in the way hospital services are reorganised to improve the care offered to patients.
In a paper, the thinktank said it wanted to “prevent politicians from blocking essential changes that will lead to higher quality and safer NHS care”.
The report, Reconfiguration of hospital services, concluded the current decision-making process for hospital reconfigurations is complex and bureaucratic and poses “significant risks” to the delivery of safe services.
As MPs continue to debate the Health and Social Care Bill, the report said health secretary Andrew Lansley should not have the final say on the reforms to hospital services and that the buck should stop with an independent panel.
King’s Fund deputy director of policy and the author of the paper, Candace Imison, said: “Changes to the way hospital services are organised in some parts of the country are now a necessity, not an option, if the NHS is to deliver safe, high quality care.
“With the NHS facing growing financial pressures and difficulties in recruiting staff with the right skills, politicians must grasp the nettle on this - not to do so risks allowing the continuation of poor quality and potentially unsafe services.
“Politicians have an important and legitimate interest in how healthcare is provided locally but too often act as a barrier, rather than facilitating the honest dialogue needed with the public.
“I hope the proposals we have published today spark a debate about how to improve the current decision-making process and provide some practical recommendations for the way forward.”
The report said minimum quality standards in hospitals should be set based on clinical evidence and that hospitals failing to meet those standards should be prevented from providing services for a particular condition.
It also recommended parts of the reconfiguration should be accelerated and that health and wellbeing boards would consult the public on how services should be improved.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The King’s Fund has highlighted that reconfigurations should be based on quality, safety and efficiency, with decisions underpinned by strong public engagement.
“We agree. Our plans to modernise the NHS empower local clinical commissioning groups to develop services that will best meet the needs of patients.”
The spokesman added that the government was also strengthening relationships between the NHS, local authorities and patient groups through health and wellbeing boards.
He added: “Our aim is to put patients, carers and local communities at the heart of the NHS, shifting decision-making as close as possible to patients by devolving power to clinicians, liberating staff from top-down control.”