Regional quality observatories - set up to monitor and improve service standards - may come to an end when strategic health authorities are abolished next year, a letter reveals.

Quality observatories were set up in 2008-09 in response to a recommendation in the High Quality Care for All report, by then health minister Lord Darzi. It said they would “enable local benchmarking, development of metrics and identification of opportunities to help frontline staff innovate and improve”.

In some regions quality observatories are relatively undeveloped but in others they have become established and been providing information and tools to many provider trusts and commissioners. They have been hosted by SHAs, which will be abolished at the end of March, and it had been hoped they would be hosted elsewhere, or funded to become independent.

However a letter from the South East Coast quality observatory, seen by HSJ, shows no arrangement has been devised with seven months remaining.

The letter, from the quality observatory’s director Sam Riley, is addressed to the Royal College of GPs. As well as highlighting a new tool, analysing quality and outcomes framework data, it reveals the future uncertainty.

It says: “You will of course be aware of the demise of SHAs in March 2013 and the current uncertainty with regards to future funding and hosting arrangements. I would be grateful for your thoughts with regards to the further development of tools such as this post March 2013 and any potential national funding streams.”

The letter continues: “Over the years, we have undertaken a significant amount of work with clinicians in a range of settings to co-design (and then provide) a range of easy to use analytical tools which meet the needs of the clinicians concerned.

“The focus of our work is very much focussed on improvement rather than judgement and we have always worked on the basis that if it is as easy to construct a tool for everyone rather than our geographic patch, we will do so as this will provide benefit to a greater number of patients and better value for the taxpayer.”

The QOF tool includes four years’ of data and benchmarks GP practice performance against others in their region or clinical commissioning group area.