Patients will 'vote with their feet' and refuse to be treated at poorly performing hospitals, health secretary Patricia Hewitt has said.

Patients will 'vote with their feet' and refuse to be treated at poorly performing hospitals, health secretary Patricia Hewitt has said.

Publication of benchmarking data on efficiency will lead to better commissioning by primary care trusts and GPs so 'hospitals treating patients better and faster' and eliminating hospital-acquired infections will 'get more patients' than those that do not, she told managers and clinicians at the International Society for Quality in Healthcare conference in London.

But patients will also use publicly available data to make their own decisions about where they want to be treated, she said.

The 'Better Care, Better Value' indicators published this week showed that 'better quality care and value for money go hand in hand' she said. The top-performing hospitals made the best use of resources, cutting the number of hospital beds needed by changing working practices. 'Part of our challenge is to persuade the public that the number of bed-days is not a test of the quality of the health service,' Ms Hewitt said.

Public opposition to service redesign was understandable, she added, but the NHS could do more to explain why reform was needed. 'We have to get much smarter in involving clinicians to make the case for change and involve the public in how those services are designed.'

Ms Hewitt admitted that many staff are 'weary of constant change', But, she added, she was fearful that 'rather than changing too fast we are not changing fast enough'.

Staff who improved services had often had to work 'against the system' to introduce change, she said. 'As we introduce some competition and contestability into the system, as we get more PCTs and clinicians redesigning patient pathways, it will liberate staff to make the changes that they want.'