PCTs should use more “soft” data, such as information supplied by mystery shoppers, to assess the quality of services they commission, the Primary Care Trust Network has said.

A discussion paper published by the network this week at its Commissioning for Quality conference in London says qualitative data is “just as important as quantitative analysis” for commissioners. It says they should go beyond patient surveys and local involvement networks and overview and scrutiny committees to seek out people’s views.

PCTs should develop a dialogue with clinical staff to hear directly of any concerns, it says, and advises commissioners to talk with patients and the public to ensure all understand what is meant by “high quality services”.

The paper complements the network’s June report Commissioning in a Cold Climate on facing challenging financial times.

PCT Network director David Stout said PCTs and practice based commissioners are the “eyes and ears of the local health service”. He said commissioners should never assume assurances from regulators and strategic health authorities were “a watertight seal of approval”.

“Only by monitoring the quality of local NHS services can commissioners be assured that the patients are receiving the best standards of care.”

HSJ’s event Intelligent Information for World Class Commissioning is on 8 December in London. For details visit www.hsj-infowcc.com