Published: 05/08/2004, Volume II4, No. 5917 Page 6 7

South West Peninsula strategic health authority is backing an objection by a local ambulance trust that lost a star in last month's ratings.

Westcountry Ambulance Services trust fell from three to two stars on the basis of an assessment of the progress it had made following its clinical governance review, published in June 2002.

Under the Healthcare Commission's 'Finsbury rules', all nonacute trusts which 'underachieved' in review reports published before July 2003 were eligible for a joint reassessment of progress against their action plans by the commission and their SHA as part of their 2004 performance rating assessment.

But although Westcountry Ambulance Services trust - which hit all its key targets and scored 'high' on its other indicators - convinced the SHA during its reassessment that it had made enough progress to win three stars, the commission saw differently.

However, in early July SHA clinical and research governance manager Natalie Jones heard that the commission was planning to award the trust two stars. In the letter, which set out further evidence of progress made by the trust, she stressed: 'I anticipate this additional evidence will demonstrate the trust is eligible for three-star status under the Finsbury rules.'

The trust has twice requested a meeting with commission chief executive Anna Walker and a copy of the criteria used to judge its progress.

The commission has so far refused to hand over assessment criteria requested by trust chief executive Michael Willis, and has turned down his requests to meet Ms Walker. A commission spokesperson said the trust should 'submit a formal appeal first'.

The trust told HSJ it has been informed it does not have grounds to appeal against its rating because trusts are banned from questioning the application of the Finsbury rules. But the trust is arguing that it is appealing against the validity of the commission's assessment process rather than the rules themselves.

Mr Willis said it was 'ludicrous' for the trust to be penalised for a 2002 assessment without the SHA's progress assessment being taken into account.