Published: 04/03/2004, Volume II4, No. 5895 Page 5

Almost half of England's specialist trusts had their star-ratings increased in the 12 days before the publication of the 2002 figures, health minister John Hutton has revealed.

They included Moorfields Eye Hospital trust, which eventually received three stars and therefore became eligible for a£1m capital funding grant and was able to join the first wave of foundation trusts.

Of the total 20 specialist trusts, eight saw their ratings increase. As well as Moorfields' rise to three stars, a further seven trusts saw their rating go up to two stars in the final days before ratings were published.

The information was revealed this week by Mr Hutton in response to questions put by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow.

Mr Burstow had tabled the questions after the parliamentary debate into the 2002 ratings inspired by HSJ's revelations that a number of trusts had seen their stars increase after an intervention from then health secretary Alan Milburn (news, pages 3-5, 18 December 2003).

Mr Hutton said that the removal of two criteria measuring performance in catering and information management and technology together with 'other data corrections and refinements' had seen 23 trusts increase their score between 12 July and the publication of the ratings on 24 July.

HSJ had previously published the list of 15 acute trusts and two specialist trusts (news, pages 3-5, 18 December; news, pages 3-5, 8 January) which saw their ratings increased. Mr Hutton's answer reveals that the missing six were all specialist trusts.

The trusts were Moorfields Eye Hospital; Birmingham Women's Healthcare; the Cardiothoracic Centre Liverpool; Royal Liverpool Children's; Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases;

Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

All except Moorfields received two stars.A two-star rating allowed the trusts to enjoy a number of advantages, including taking forward capital projects worth up to£8m without first getting approval for the project's business case.

Of all 20 specialist trusts, just two received one star in 2002, and none were zero rated.

Mr Burstow also asked which trusts Mr Milburn queried and why.Mr Hutton said Mr Milburn had raised queries about nine acute trusts - all named in HSJ's previous coverage - 'to satisfy himself ' that the ratings 'were based on robust evidence'. Mr Hutton made no mention of the health secretary querying the rating of specialist trusts. The Department of Health would only say: 'Everything we want to say is in John Hutton's parliamentary answer, or was covered in the [previous] debate in parliament.'

Moorfields was unavailable for comment.