The standard of care being delivered by providers is to be scrutinised at regular “surveillance groups” under plans to ensure quality in the reformed NHS, HSJ has learned. 

It is likely the groups will be convened at NHS Commissioning Board local office level, probably around once a month, and less frequently at the current strategic health authority cluster level, although many details remain uncertain.

The process is being led by Ian Cumming, who will continue to perform his duties as national director for quality during the transition for a “short period”, despite being appointed chief executive of Health Education England this week. He told HSJ the groups would bring together representatives from clinical commissioning groups, HealthWatch, the commissioning board, the NHS Trust Development Authority and “other appropriate parties” to talk about quality in local providers and along pathways of care.

All providers delivering care funded by the NHS will be subject to scrutiny at the meetings.

It is still being decided whether providers would attend the quality assurance groups, Mr Cumming told HSJ. “My perspective is they will be part of the discussion,” he said.

Mr Cumming, who will be leading the NHS response to the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry when it reports later this year, said the groups were “part of trying to find a better way to make sure the system in future shares information about quality”.

Full details of quality assurance in the new system are due to be published in draft form next month, with the caveat that they may be amended to reflect the inquiry’s recommendations.

The draft plans will also include proposals for a quality dashboard which will present a range of performance measures such as healthcare acquired infections and mortality ratios alongside “softer” data, such as staff and patient surveys and the junior doctor survey.

The dashboard will reveal the ratio of nurses and doctors to beds for the first time. Organisations including the Royal College of Nursing have been campaigning for mandatory nurse to patient ratios and the issue is one Mr Francis said he would consider when writing his report.

However, Mr Cumming said the information presented on the dashboard was intended to start a conversation and not be a “pass or fail” for trusts.