Health leaders have called for an Audit Commission-style body to perform spot checks and external monitoring of waiting times data to ensure its accuracy.
At a Public Accounts Committee hearing last Wednesday the Department of Health’s permanent secretary Una O’Brien said that the Health and Social Care Information Centre should take on the old role of the Audit Committee in monitoring the accuracy of the data. The government announced in August 2010 that the public sector auditing body was to be abolished.
Ms O’Brien said: “We did have the Audit Commission up to 2010 and they undertook spot checks on this…I think for the near to medium-term I should be looking at what role the Health and Social Care Information Centre could play as a centre of expertise and a spot checker on the accuracy of data.”
Monitor chief executive David Bennett added: “I do think there’s a case for looking at the reintroduction of the sort of external audit that the Audit Commission used to do.”
The hearing focused on the findings of the National Audit Office’s elective care waiting times report published in January which found that more than half of the waiting times of 650 orthopaedic patients across seven trusts were incorrectly recorded.
Chief executive of NHS England Sir David Nicholson said the introduction of a quality premium was a “significant incentive” to encourage commissioners to ensure trusts provide accurate data. The quality premium will be paid at the beginning of the 2014-15 financial year to any clinical commissioning groups that have seen improvements to the quality of the service they commission during 2013-14.
Keith Hawkswell - who led the NAO report into waiting times - said that the £270m set aside for the quality premium is “quite a small proportion of the total funding for CCGs and trusts”.
Sir David replied “If you want to give us another £250m I’ll make it £500m. There is no quality premium at the moment, there is no incentive on commissioners in the past to deliver this. This is a new system of providing incentives to commissioners and I think we should let it work.”
Mr Bennett said: “I think it’s true we shine a very bright light on the acute sector. We measure quite a lot of what it does quite precisely. We don’t shine such an intense bright light everywhere else in the system. I think things like the quality premium are valuable in incentivising that people are focusing on what’s going on in the rest of the system.”