'Without good information on the quality of healthcare at a systems level - issues such as access, effectiveness and safety - there are no clear sign posts for policy makers, clinicians and managers about where and how to make improvements.'

How do we know if the NHS is improving? In healthcare, we are constantly bombarded by a plethora of conflicting information, and sometimes do not know where to go to get the latest and most relevant data. In addition, what information we do have is not always reliable and objective.

The Health Foundation's new research initiative, Quest for Quality and Improved Performance, is our contribution to tackling this problem. The QQUIP website went live at the start of 2007.

By bringing together the latest data from a wide range of credible sources, it offers an independent insight into the quality and performance of the NHS and other international healthcare systems.

The QQUIP website is already home to over 150 charts which provide at-a-glance data on priority areas such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and mental health. The data looks at NHS performance in terms of its effectiveness, safety, responsiveness, efficiency, resource use and how easily patients can access their care.

The site also collects, analyses and updates data from a wide range of already published and publicly available sources so that the latest information is available in one place. These include the OECD, the Department of Health, the Healthcare Commission, medical Royal College databases and clinical publications.

Cancer deaths
Without good information on the quality of healthcare at a systems level - issues such as access, effectiveness and safety - there are no clear signposts for policy makers, clinicians and managers about where and how to make improvements. Equally, taxpayers need good information in order to hold government to account.

To take just one example, the charts on cancer deaths show that England is set to reach the government target by 2010. However, when you compare our performance internationally, it becomes clear that the UK cancer mortality rate is still high relative to comparator countries in Europe despite a sharp drop in recent years. By accessing the data and comparing it, the research allows us to ask challenging questions about how effective interventions are, and whether government targets are the right ones. Managers and clinicians can also use it to gain a national and international perspective on their own work.

The QQUIP initiative addresses broader questions. For example, it gives an insight into whether the extra£5.7bn spent on the NHS each year since 2000 has improved productivity levels, what impact regulation has on the quality of healthcare, and whether patient-focused interventions lead to better patient outcomes. Over the next four years, we will be pulling together the latest evidence on incentives, IT, healthcare delivery models and organisational interventions.

We hope this information will help the healthcare community make better decisions in its quest to deliver higher quality patient care.

Please visit the QQUIP website at www.health.org.uk/qquip. You can also e-mail your observations and thoughts on the site to qquip@health.org.uk.

Stephen Thornton is chief executive of the Health Foundation.