STAR RATINGS Healthcare Commission refutes claims that assessments are 'past sell-by date'

Published: 28/07/2005, Volume II5, No. 5966 Page 9

Trusts have been warned to take their final star-ratings seriously if they are to avoid falling behind with the Healthcare Commission's new system of assessment.

Until last year, three star organisations received a capital bonus of up to£1m as a reward for success.

This year, the Department of Health has abolished such payments.

Explicit penalties attached to failure have also been dropped. The policy of replacing management of failing trusts on a franchise, introduced in 2002, was quietly abandoned.

NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon told HSJ that with little hanging on the results of the ratings, the system was past its 'sell-by date' and that this week's ratings were likely to receive less attention than their predecessors.

But Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker said trusts would be 'foolish' to ignore the stars awarded this week. She warned that the new system, introduced next year, would incorporate 'a lot of what is in the star-ratings' - and that organisations which wanted to do well next year could ill afford to ignore this year's results.

She told HSJ: 'Most of what is in the star-ratings will continue to be assessed under the new healthcare check which goes broader but incorporates a lot of what is in the star-ratings because they are issues that really matter to patients. Trusts would be really foolish to ignore them because it would put them back.'

Dr Dixon said: 'I think trusts will not take as much notice of them as in previous years. Frankly I do not think patients are going to take that much notice.

'They are more interested in things like Dr Foster research and are more likely to listen to what their local primary care professionals say about a local hospital. That is why the ratings need to get more local.' Nonetheless, Dr Dixon said targets had shown some value in helping to 'buck the system'.

Ms Walker insisted that as far as the public was concerned, the ratings still mattered. And she pointed out that three stars remains the 'hurdle' to be overcome before acute trusts can apply to win foundation status.

John Rostill chief executive of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals trust, which retained one star, said: 'I am one of those who believes that the star-ratings are past their sell-by date now and people will tend to concentrate on the new system.' NHS Confederation policy manager Gary Fereday welcomed the abolition of the star-ratings, which he said had 'become a crude measure of an individual trust's changing performance'. He said he hoped the new system would meet its promise to provide a more comprehensive picture of NHS performance.

But Mr Fereday said organisations could not afford to ignore this week's results, and would need to manage the reactions of patients, public and staff to this year's ratings.