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Warning lights on quality of care are glowing more brightly warns new report

In its annual statement on care quality in the NHS, QualityWatch warns of clear signals that quality is declining in some important areas.

Developed in partnership by the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation, QualityWatch is a major research programme which began in 2013 to provide independent scrutiny into how the quality of health and social care is changing.

The QualityWatch 2015 annual statement commends the NHS for the excellent care it delivers in certain areas, singling out the high vaccination and screening rates across the UK, alongside reductions in unplanned admissions for children in England, as two areas for special mention.

“Given the pressures it faces, the ability of the NHS to maintain and improve quality in such areas is to be celebrated, and is a testament to the efforts of staff across the country,” state Nigel Edwards, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust and Richard Taunt, Director of Policy of the Health Foundation in the Foreword to the statement.

However, the statement reports on falling quality with regards to access to hospital, mental health and social care services and says the NHS is suffering from growing staff disengagement and vacancy rates. “The warning lights on care quality that we observed last year now glow even more brightly. So far we have seen a gradual decline in some elements of quality. The problem with complex systems under high levels of stress is that they can suffer sudden and catastrophic collapse – often without a lot of warning.”

The annual statement focuses on three areas considered to be critical to a high-performing health system:
            How easily patients can access care

            How engaged and motivated the workforce is

            How well we look after the health of children and younger people

“There needs to be greater realism about the level of quality the NHS can provide within the resources available to it. Currently policy for the NHS is focusing on additions to what the NHS can offer, for example, seven-day working, or NHS England’s strategy on cancer treatment. However, the NHS is struggling to preserve the quality of care across all services and care settings, not just on new announcements.”

The statement calls for a greater sense of urgency from the industry leaders (from the Secretary of State to the heads of regulatory bodies and those responsible for managing and commissioning services), greater clarity from regulators and ministers over their approach to overcoming the problem of diminishing finances and a more coherent approach to managing low morale in the workforce.