Transparency in the NHS: Basic Right or Unnecessary Invasion?

Transparency in the NHS: Basic Right or Unnecessary Invasion?

As avid followers of current affairs in the health sector will know, transparency has become a topic we’re used to seeing dominating the press amidst the Mid-Staffs scandal.

The primary aim of increased transparency within healthcare is fundamentally looking to bring the NHS focus back to patient care by publishing data focusing on lives not targets.

In practice, employing transparency within the NHS will help to achieve greater public insight into trusts, and publish quantifiable performance results so patients can have a measure of choice over the care they receive. In a similar vein of allowing patients the option of commenting on their care, publishing medical outcomes will allow them to critically review the institution in which they’re due to receive their treatment.

Understandably, measures to improve transparency have generally received widespread praise after the need to monitor patient care and expose poor performance has come to light off the back of high death-rate hospitals. But although detailed performance data is welcomed by some, doctors have expressed concerns that making such information available could have negative repercussions both for doctors and patients.

In a recent article published by The Guardian, Tim Kelsey, director for patients and information at the NHS commissioning board, argues that transparency in the NHS is a human right with the potential to save lives. The support for this view may be evident, but critics still suggest this could do more harm than good. In the bias surrounding this topic, we’ve focused on a range of accounts to hone in on the realities of the transparency in the NHS and answer the simple question: Transparency, useful information or pointless witch hunt?

If findings by Bruce Keogh, former heart surgeon and current NHS medical director, are applied to current debates, the evidence suggests that transparency does significantly reduce death rates. Nine years ago during his career in surgery, Keogh persuaded 240 heart surgeons to publish comparable data on their individual clinical outcomes. As a result, considerable improvements in patient survival rates have been reported, a glowing reference for the transparency case.

Aside from being proven to reduce death rates, transparency has helped to unearth poor standards of care and will make it harder for unscrupulous hospital staff to cover up serious failings. High death-rate reports from numerous hospitals around the country have already led to plans to investigate these institutions, welcome news for patients and family members who received unacceptable standards of care.

Robert Francis, chairman of Stafford Hospital enquiry, supported transparency in his final report stating that:

‘Information must be made available about the performance and outcomes of the service provided to enable patients to make treatment choices and have a proper understanding of the outcomes for them. The public should be able to compare relative performance and therefore need access to open honest and transparent information to assess compliance with appropriate standards’.

But in a feature by the Economic and Social Research Council, it has been identified that some doctors believe publishing results will discourage doctors from dealing with complicated cases. The fear that death rates might overshadow other aspects of their performance has additionally been raised. While many agree with the benefits transparency offers, surgeons against having their results broadcast may become increasingly disillusioned with the NHS. It seems that for transparency to go ahead, results need to be fair and take account of success instead of making medical staff feel alienated and unfairly judged. If moves towards patient care, not targets are to go ahead, then support for medical professionals also needs to be taken into account.

If you’ve received inadequate treatment at the hands of the NHS and would like answers, help and support, then get in touch with medical negligence specialists Pearson Hinchliffe.