'Both the independent sector and the NHS collect data - but different items for different purposes, making direct comparisons virtually impossible'

How do services compare between the NHS and independent sector? One view is that the independent sector has good facilities and hotel services but the quality of its clinical services are more questionable.

Within the independent sector there is a belief this perception is reducing opportunities. A clear answer to this is very difficult to find. Both the independent sector and the NHS collect data - but different items for different purposes, making direct comparisons virtually impossible.

To compound the problem, both sectors collect data that focuses on number of patients treated, not quality of treatment provided.

Another approach is to look at quality of services based on standards achieved.

The National Care Standards Commission, set up in 2002, enforced the Department of Health national minimum standards. To demonstrate a culture of continuing quality improvement, all leading independent sector providers undertook independent accreditation to more comprehensive best practice standards, therefore meeting both the legislative and accreditation standards.

The tighter regulatory mechanism for the independent sector means they are required to comply in order to continue to provide services. Standards for Better Health were introduced for the NHS with the political message that all NHS providers would meet them. The reality was very different and a significant proportion of trusts are still working hard to achieve them.

Having worked closely with the independent and NHS sectors, CHKS has detailed knowledge of all requirements across both sectors. Aspects of the national minimum standards are not 'softer' for the independent sector - they are much more detailed and prescriptive.

Pure logic says that as the independent sector has been achieving required standards for some years, while some of the NHS is struggling to achieve Standards for Better Health, the quality of care provided by the independent sector is at least as good as that of the NHS.