Developmental standards for trusts are to be phased in over three years to allow time for organisations to adapt to the new requirements, following criticism of the Healthcare Commission's original proposals.
This week the commission unveiled revised plans for its annual health check for 2006-07. It will assess some trusts against three of the seven domains on which they will be rated, but only in the form of a shadow assessment.
The results of the pilot assessments will be published, but will not be included in the annual performance ratings. It had originally been intended that trusts would be ranked on the majority of the developmental standards on day one.
The commission says it expects developmental standards for the first three domains to be part of the rating in 2007-08, subject to the experience of the 2006-07 assessments. It will then assess the new standards in all seven domains in stages over the next three years.
NHS Confederation policy manager Maria Nyberg said trusts had been concerned that the introduction of developmental standards would increase the regulatory burden 'at a challenging time'.
'We are pleased that the commission has listened to our call for the developmental standards to be piloted in 2006-07,' she added.
But although the commission has given ground in introducing assessment more gradually, it has not bowed to criticism by the Foundation Trust Network that the standards should not be applied to foundation trusts.
Foundation Trust Network director Sue Slipman commented: 'Foundation trusts still believe the commission should take a different approach. A focus on the core standards alongside new outcome measures would do more to stimulate improvement than another assessment regime. Developmental standards should be seen as a local matter, driven by commissioners and delivered by providers in response to local needs and priorities.'
Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker told HSJ: 'We can't accept the FTN's view that the developmental standards should not apply to them. As foundation trusts, they are the best-performing hospitals and so they should be achieving these standards anyway.
'The standards are about the quality of care for patients and, although they have much more autonomy as foundation trusts, they should not be exempt from the requirement to improve services.'
The three domain areas to be assessed initially are patient safety, where the shadow assessments will be in acute trusts, with pilots in ambulance, mental health and primary care trusts; public health, with shadow assessments in PCTs and pilots in acute, mental health and ambulance trusts; and clinical and cost-effectiveness, with shadow assessments in acute and mental health services and pilots in ambulance and PCTs.