The publication of the Healthcare Commission’s report into the quality of care provided by independent sector treatment centres has been delayed until next month.

At a Commons debate on ISTCs last week health minister Andy Burnham said the report would be published in June, despite the fact that health secretary Patricia Hewitt announced the review in April 2006.

Explaining the delay to MPs, Mr Burnham blamed the NHS’s beleaguered IT system and problems it had encountered in ‘drawing down the data required’.

‘The delay is due to the fact that the commission wishes to use the most up-to-date data from ISTCs,’ he said.

Mr Burnham said there had been no delays in the information being provided by ISTCs and that the report would ‘make an important contribution to ensure public confidence’ in the centres.

‘Leap in the dark’

However, in January HSJ revealed an early draft of the commission’s review which stated that national data on the clinical quality of ISTCs is ‘incomplete and of extremely poor quality’.

During last week’s debate Commons health select committee chair Kevin Barron told MPs that until there was evidence to support the work of ISTCs they continued to be a ‘leap in the dark’.

‘The Healthcare Commission was asked [by the Department of Health] to carry out a detailed comparison of the standards of care in ISTCs and those in the NHS,’ he said. ‘However, it is now many months down the road and we are still not there yet. This is disappointing.’

Mr Barron said his committee remained ‘uncomfortable’ with the government’s pledge to spend£550m a year on the ISTC programme.

He continued: ‘ISTCs may be making and may continue to make a valuable and considerable contribution to efficiency, innovation and choice in the health economy. However, the case cannot be made by default. We look to the government to make their case actively, improve the programme, collect the appropriate data and allow genuine quality to be assessed and therefore genuine choices to be made.’