Sir John Major’s government sparked a transformation in school standards when it established Ofsted. Independent, expert, public ratings both empowered parents and drove up standards. The health sector is now learning the lessons as we confront examples of poor care.
Knowledge is power. People now expect to be well-informed about products and services. There is a huge appetite for intricate details about rival smartphones. Many of us read online reviews before buying a washing machine or even a book.
This Government is working to ensure users are equally as empowered when it comes to public services. I depend on my phone – but it is utterly trivial compared to the central importance of education or healthcare. Transparency and accountability matter all the more for them.
I would be surprised if Michael Gove has ever received a letter from a parent saying, “Dear Education Secretary, I’m eager to know less about my child’s school.” And certainly no-one has ever written to me and said they want to know less about their local hospital or mother’s care home.
There was a time when parents were in the dark about schools. Too many were allowed to fail desperately. There was a chronic lack of awareness about what was happening. Ofsted now shines a light into these once dark recesses with an easy-to-understand ratings system that empowers parents and holds schools accountable for their performance.
Inspired by the Ofsted model, we are now driving a similar transformation in the health and care system.
The Care Quality Commission is now totally independent of government and has new leadership. The CQC used to engage generalist inspection teams that would look at a slimming clinic one week and a major hospital the next. As Ofsted has shown, peer reviews based on expert judgement but common standards is the key. So we have now appointed three powerful Chief Inspectors – for hospitals, adult social care and general practice.
All of them will act as whistleblowers, fearlessly rooting out failings. Hard-working people should not have to leave with failing hospitals any more than they did with sink schools. The Chief Inspectors will also celebrate the best in our NHS, ensuring a learning system that challenges itself to improve.
Each inspector will develop an easy-to-understand ratings system based on four categories: Outstanding, Good, Requires improvement, and Inadequate. Their reports will be detailed and unapologetically frank. They will be informed by close observation and conversations with professionals, patients and service users alike – just as Ofsted inspectors sit in on lessons and talk to heads, teachers, governors, pupils and parents.
We have learned too from the way the best schools can work with underperforming ones. Each of the eleven NHS Trusts currently in special measures has been partnered with one of the best NHS Trusts in the country. We are looking at how chain structures can drive clinical excellence, improve efficiency and help deal with failure – just as they do for schools.
And, inspired by the great work of “superheads”, we have created a new leadership programme to fast-track talent from clinical backgrounds and outside to become senior NHS leaders and chief executives.
There are two reasons to do all this.
One is that transparency and accountability inevitably force providers to raise their game. The worst health and care failures remind us that secrecy can be fatal. When people know they have to look those they serve in the eye, when they know that the best and worst of what they do will be recorded and made public, that has a powerful effect.
The second reason is even more simple and straightforward: people have an inherent right to know about the public services that they pay for and depend on.
These are all things that Conservatives understand instinctively. I am determined to face down those who refuse to accept that reform is essential, and to act as the patient’s champion.