National data on the clinical quality of independent sector treatment centres must be improved, according to a review by the Healthcare Commission.

The review, commissioned last year by chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson, catalogues a number of concerns over the robustness of the clinical quality data being reported by ISTCs. It says ISTCs must be 'more aware of their contractual obligation to submit data'.

And the Healthcare Commission is unable to say 'without reservation' that the care provided in ISTCs is different from that provided by the NHS.

It concludes: 'Our review was hampered by the lack of high-quality hospital episode statistics .data on the care of individual patients at ISTCs.

'The incompleteness and poor quality of available data limited our capacity to carry out a reliable assessment of aspects of care.'

The review found:

  • submission of poor-quality and incomplete data to hospital episode statistics;
  • systems for following up outcomes for patients treated in ISTCs are not always in place and were not always included in ISTCs' contracts;
  • some of the centres have taken time to understand national standards for healthcare providers.

The review was announced by then health secretary Patricia.Hewitt in April 2006 when giving evidence to the Commons health select committee's inquiry into ISTCs. In July last year the MPs' report concluded that it was impossible to say whether ISTCs had provided value for money, while lack of comparable data with NHS providers meant the quality of care provided by the centres could not be judged.

The Healthcare Commission review urges the DoH to work with the Information Centre for health and social care, Connecting for Health, the Healthcare Commission, and the independent sector to agree a common data set of information about individual patients.

ISTCs should ensure they collect and submit 'accurate and timely data' to the national NHS systems.

The report calls on the centres and primary care trusts to improve their submission to and use of national data sets and the results of clinical audits to monitor processes, outcomes and access to care.