Published: 09/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5804 Page 6

The new chair of the Commission for Health Improvement should also be the designated leader of its successor body, the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection, CHI chief executive Dr Peter Homa has told HSJ.

The current CHI chair, Dame Deirdre Hine, is due to complete her three-year term in October.

Dr Homa said he believed it was very important that the new chair provided 'continuity' to bridge the two organisations and ensure that the momentum created by CHI's work was not lost.

The setting up of CHAI was announced immediately after the Budget last month. As well as doing all CHI's work, CHAI will take on the Audit Commission's value-for-money role and the National Care Standards Commission's regulation of private hospitals and clinics.

Dr Homa said that despite CHI's impending demise, he and his 300-strong team were in good heart. CHI is to recruit about an extra 100 staff over the next year and Dr Homa said the quality of applicants had risen significantly since the CHAI announcement.

Dr Homa has already announced his intention to apply for the job of CHAI's chief inspector.

A group is now being formed, chaired by a senior civil servant, to develop a project plan for CHAI.

It will include senior representatives from CHI, NCSC, the Audit Commission and the Department of Health.

The legislation to create CHAI is likely to be in the Queen's speech in November, which would be likely to mean a start date of April 2004.

CHI communications director Matt Tee said that one of the biggest issues to resolve was whether the public and private sector should be subject to the same inspection regime. He said that both the NHS and the private sector could learn from each other's approach to regulation.

Mr Tee added that it would be 'patently daft' to ignore the impact of Patient Choice - under which NHS hospitals will earn extra resources on a 'cost-per-case' basis or lose money if they 'failed to deliver' - potentially putting the public sector on a similar footing to that of the private sector.

He also said that the continuation of CHI's developmental work would be a vital element in the debate over CHAI's role.

Dr Homa said he saw it as CHI's job to continue to develop inspection and improvement methodologies which could be handed on to CHAI when it began to operate, while continuing to carry out its demanding review and investigation programme. 'It is business as usual, 'he said, adding, 'nobody due a CHI review will not receive one.'

He also claimed to be relaxed about the implications of the NHS Reform Bill currently going through the House of Lords, which would give CHI a range of extra responsibilities, including responsibility for the star system of assessing trusts and overseeing other NHS inspectorates.None of these new powers would have to be reconfigured when CHAI took over from CHI, said Dr Homa; they would simply be deemed 'necessary, but inadequate' for the new inspectorate.

Dr Homa, who has a doctorate in business administration, also offered some advice on how to refer to the new body. He and his colleagues have been referring to CHI's successor as 'new-CHAI', with the pronunciation of the acronym remaining exactly the same.

lalastair. mclellan@emap. com