The Department of Health could face action for failing to ensure the world class commissioning framework complies with equality duties, HSJ has learnt.

The DH is in talks with the Equality and Human Rights Commission over concerns related to its much vaunted policy to transform the way services are commissioned.

The DH website says world class commissioning “will be pivotal in reducing health inequalities” by encouraging better assessments of local needs and promoting healthy lifestyles.

But Equality and Rights Commission policy director Andrea Murray told HSJ: “There are things we think the DH is missing out on in world class commissioning around equality. Unless they take action there will be some serious difficulties down the line.”

Commission powers

The commission has statutory powers to investigate organisations, launch legal cases, and force bodies to commit to an action plan over a specified timescale.

Its predecessor, the Commission for Racial Equality, last year found the DH was failing to meet its race equality duty. Ms Murray said the new body was following up on the former’s investigation.

Her comments follow complaints from former CRE chair Lord Ouseley that the new equality body was failing to act on evidence of race discrimination in the NHS.

Superficial assessments

A primary care trust senior manager in the North West said equality impact assessments for world class commissioning were “fairly superficial”. He said: “The way we’ve done our [equality] assessments for world class commissioning has been a paper exercise to say ‘we see there’s no problem’. There’s not really any engagement.”

PCTs needed to scrutinise outcomes data and access rates for different demographic groups but were not sufficiently analysing figures at their disposal, he said.

“Everyone knows we’re trying to support health inequalities and more personalised care but when push comes to shove, when we see we need services that target particular groups, no one wants to do it.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The equalities impact assessment for world class commissioning in fact found that the programme offered the potential to reduce the barriers and inequalities that currently exist.”