HSJ asked what the NHS will do with the huge amount of data it has on care quality - here’s the answer, says Professor Sir Mike Richards

What, asked Dave West on hsj.co.uk recently, will the NHS do with the unprecedented information it now has about care quality as a result of CQC’s inspections of acute trusts?

The short answer is that it should use it to drive improvement: to build on good quality where it has been identified and learn from the examples of good and outstanding care to do better. But it’s worth considering how this has been happening from the start of this inspection programme.

HSJ is right to say we judge the NHS and all health and care organisations by high standards - standards developed by providers and the public agreeing together what good looks like for hospitals and all health and care services.

The result has been a public led, professionally driven comprehensive view of the performance of hospitals. We must use this to drive change.

But this has already started. The most obvious demonstration of this is the 11 hospitals that have come out of special measures and the many other improvements we see when we carry out follow-up inspections where we had previously identified quality concerns.

The experts’ impact

Many providers tell us that our reports have helped them improve and help trusts learn from each other – 70 per cent of trusts have told us that they agree/strongly agree that a CQC inspection helped to identify areas for improvement. And NHS Improvement can better focus its support for improvement using the information from our inspections.

Less obvious, but no less telling, is the impact of the hundreds of clinical experts involved in our inspections. These are people who have everyday frontline experience of working in the NHS. Through this work we have created the largest peer review network in the country, through which clinicians can understand and support each other to diagnose problems and improve. This is spreading quality across the system.

Following completion of the programme to inspect and rate all 240 NHS trusts (acute, community, mental health and ambulance), we are closing in on completing inspection programmes of all providers across health and care services that we regulate, including primary medical services, adult social care and independent healthcare. This will increasingly allow us to build a picture of a local area by looking at the primary and social care that surround a trust, helping local areas better understand the dynamics at play that impact on the quality of care.

For CQC’s part we will be publishing a review of this programme of inspections in September with two aims: to celebrate outstanding care and to find and share what we feel are the ingredients for good care; and to understand how we help leaders better understand what they need to do to make the improvement in care that we all want to see.

CQC will support leaders in their quest to drive change and we will be cheering from the front when they do.

Professor Sir Mike Richards is chief inspector of hospitals.