The Royal College of Surgeons could soon be running a national audit of clinical outcomes, comparing NHS trusts, independent treatment centres and other private sector providers for the first time.

President Bernard Ribeiro said he thought the college's clinical effectiveness unit was 'pretty close' to getting approval and funding from the Department of Health to begin the work this year.

He said the college was 'unhappy' with evidence on outcomes from ISTCs.

The initial audit work, he said, would focus on orthopaedics, 'where there have been concerns about [the outcomes of] ISTCs'. He said he expected the audit programme to last three years although initial results could be released after a year.

Mr Ribeiro said this work would be far more useful than existing audits of patient-reported outcomes. 'This will look at the hard surgical-technical side, comparing teams rather than individuals, and if we get it right we will be able to deliver the very thing the public has asked for and which commissioners can use.'

The Royal College of Surgeons has consistently opposed the introduction of ISTCs on the grounds of quality, lack of training and over-capacity.