A Department of Health drive to publish more success rates for NHS services has split members of an expert panel charged with deciding what can be measured. They agree that using outcomes reported by trusts and patients is crucial, but members have different views over how easy it will be to apply throughout the NHS.
The panel, called the information task force, is due to report to the DoH by the end of the year on recommendations for the data being published on the NHS Choices website.
The choices website, which was launched in June, already reports readmission rates, length of stay and MRSA performance.
But panel members showed a mixture of scepticism and optimism over the plans.
Sheffield GP and chief executive of patient opinion website Paul Hodgkin said that while the group's work was worthwhile it was unlikely to provide patients with comprehensive outcomes data.
'It may be useful to commissioners but I think it is unlikely to ever provide data down to site, speciality and procedure level,' he said.
One difficulty would be measuring an outcome when a patient has seen different surgeons and undergone different treatments, he said.
York University professor of health policy Alan Maynard urged caution over the financial consequences of such moves. 'We don't know how much it's going to cost; if you are using patient-reported outcomes then that is not going to be an insignificant cost,' he said.
A major problem would be how much patients could be trusted to accurately report on their own conditions, he said.
The group has been set up under the leadership of Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the heart surgeon who led the drive to get heart surgery survival rates pub- lished through the Healthcare Commission.
Members said his recent appointment as the NHS's first medical director (see 'NHS gets first medical director as Sir Liam's role is scaled back') put him in an ideal position to introduce wider use of outcome measures.
But not all clinical data collected by trusts would be as much use to the public, said chief executive of the Picker Institute think tank Angela Coulter.
'Cardiac surgery is relatively easy to do because it is relatively easy to measure the outcomes but for many, many other things done on the NHS it's much more difficult to find good, reliable, routine data,' she said.
Mental health, for example, would be more difficult to measure, she said.
However, London School of Hygiene professor of health services research Nick Black remained optimistic.
He told HSJ: 'Ultimately it is achievable to roll out outcome measures over all of the specialities. So the sensible way forward would be to try it out in those easier areas first.'
A DoH spokesperson said the group was advising on how to 'develop and present reliable quality measures for a range of services that would be relevant and meaningful to patients'.