Commissioning support units are strengthening their quality assurance services in response to the Francis report on Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, HSJ has learned.

The trend has been in part a reaction to clinical commissioning group anxiety about the possibility of a similar catastrophic failing of care happening on their watch. Meanwhile, some CSUs have seen the increased focus on quality and safety since the Francis report as an opportunity to sell new services to CCGs.

Birmingham and the Black Country CSU has reported new demands from CCGs for quality assurance services, but has also actively written to those it supplies – and some it does not – to offer quality assurance services beyond those currently agreed. Its offer is based on its role as a data management and integration centre, and includes analytics services such as patient safety dashboards.

South London CSU is now offering an “enhanced” quality service, which aims to pull together information from sources such as performance and contracting data, complaints, and data on never events and serious incidents. Two commissioning groups have bought the service so far, although the CSU is confident that interest is growing in the wake of the Francis report.

South London is also in the process of recruiting to a senior nurse role.

Sarah Whiting, managing director of the North West London CSU said her organisation began strengthening its quality assurance services before Robert Francis QC’s inquiry reported.  

“We had a good idea of what was coming,” she said, so invested in hiring more people and bringing nurses and GPs into senior roles to give the organisation a stronger clinical focus.

Ms Whiting said her CSU’s quality assurance offer included using information from complaints about providers, and from performance monitoring staff who go into trusts. “Our job is to triangulate hard and soft information, [to turn] it into timely intelligence that supports CCGs to commission high quality and safe services, and to take appropriate action where necessary.”

Central Southern CSU managing director John Wilderspin told HSJ he had worked to make every service he offered “Francis compliant”, by building an awareness of quality and safety into all support services, including business intelligence and contract management. His CSU would not be charging extra, he added. “We’re building our whole offer around this… for too long [commissioners] have seen the quality assurance part of commissioning as an add-on.”

Central Southern is also recruiting a nurse director and a medical director.