Doctors attack healthcare watchdog

The union of doctors is challenging the Healthcare Commission over its yearly report to parliament, saying it is publishing misleading statistics.

The independent watchdog is publishing its last report to parliament on the overall state of healthcare in England and Wales after five years of regulating the sector.

“Unfortunately, the report contains the misleading suggestion that up to 600 errors occur in primary care a day,” said Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the British Medical Association.

“This is based on data which was mainly gathered outside the UK, and identified that medical error occurs between five and 80 times per 100,000 consultations.

He continued: “Any errors are regrettable but there are millions of contacts between the NHS and patients every day. It is inevitable that, in a very small proportion of these, care falls below the highest standards.”

But commission chairman Sir Ian Kennedy was more critical.

“It’s clear that safety is higher on the agenda than ever, but we are also a long way from an NHS that hungrily and systematically examines its own performance, gathers in and learns from mistakes, reinforces good practice, and does things differently for the future.”

The report said medical errors occur up to 80 times per 100,000 consultations – adding up to 600 errors a day.

The BMA said this was based on studies carried out primarily in America, Australia and the Netherlands.

Overall, the commission’s report was very positive, with the watchdog praising the government’s target-based NHS policies.

“We have seen more money going in, more staff providing services and more patients being treated,” said Sir Ian.

“People are getting care much more quickly than they used to, notably for cancer.”

But concerns were raised about the quality of treatment, particularly in terms of the government much-vaunted personalised care strategy.

“The NHS is still playing catch up when it comes to consistently providing the patient-centred care that people rightly demand,” Sir Ian continued.

“This is particularly true for those least able to make themselves heard when it comes to getting the best care, such as older people, children and those with mental health needs or learning disabilities.”

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “In order for the NHS to excel, ministers must stop meddling in the day-to-day management of services. That way, services would become structured around patient choice and need rather than central targets determined by distant bureaucrats.”

There are also a small number of trusts which consistently perform badly.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “While so much of the NHS is doing so well, there are areas of unacceptable care with some trusts continuing to fail badly.”