• NHS England and HQIP publish new statement amid “significant concerns” from royal colleges
  • Reports have been delayed for months after NHS England imposed a new approval process
  • NHS England says it will keep the process “under constant review”

NHS England has said it is “working to ensure delays are minimised” around the publication of national clinical audits amid “significant concerns” raised by royal colleges.

In a joint statement agreed on Wednesday and published on the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership website, NHS England said it planned to keep the process “under constant review” to ensure patients benefit from the work.

The statement followed concerns raised with NHS England over clinical audit reports being delayed for months. Clinicians also warned the delays meant patients are being left at risk from known variations in care.

Last week, it emerged NHS England had imposed a new sign off and approval process over the national clinical audit programme, which is delivered by HQIP.

This process includes NHS England’s communications team being able to “instruct” clinical audit report authors on the length of reports and number of recommendations they can make. It can also decide when reports are published, giving as little as a week’s notice. 

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have all expressed concerns that the new process could damage the credibility of the clinical audits and prevent learning from being shared.

The NHS England and HQIP statement said: “As the programme grows in stature, we are working to ensure delays are minimised, and that the multiple improvement messages get to those who are best placed to enact the recommendations.

“This is not a static process and both the funders and commissioners, plan to keep this process under constant review so that we and our patients get the most out of the programme yet have the results disseminated, and acted upon, as speedily as possible.”

HQIP commissions the national clinical audit programme on behalf of NHS England and the Welsh government. The programme produces more than 60 reports a year, examining variation in clinical practice across dozens of key diseases and conditions, including stroke care, surgery, maternity and end of life care.

The statement added: “This is a unique, world leading resource, designed by clinicians, commissioners and patients providing both quality assurance and quality improvement of the services that the NHS offers.

“Quality assurance has always been fundamental, and remains so, but as the programme matures, QI is becoming more important and HQIP are working with funders and clinicians to ensure that the programme maximises the QI opportunities.”