Welcome improvements but concerns over inequalities and patient involvement, says The King's Fund

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Commenting on today's publication of the Healthcare Commission's State of Healthcare 2005 report, The King's Fund Chief Executive Niall Dickson said:

'The report confirms our own audits that the NHS has delivered substantial improvements in some important areas, noticeably on reducing waiting times. This demonstrates the power of using central targets to drive change but the report also shows their limitations. Non-priority services, such as sexual health and mental health - for which we have expressed growing concern, have languished in comparison. And the target for GP surgeries to ensure access within 48 hours has produced the unintended consequence that some patients are no longer able to book ahead.

'We welcome the report's conclusions on the importance of ensuring patients are able to make informed decisions about their care. The Healthcare Commission's findings suggest the Government has some way to go in making this a reality which really must be tackled, especially if the introduction of greater choice is to have benefits for all patients, not just the more affluent. And it is not just better information that is required - we must ensure that health professionals also have the right skills and approach.

'The fairer distribution of funding to reflect levels of deprivation, as highlighted by the report, is also to be welcomed. We now urge the Healthcare Commission to monitor whether or not primary care trust commissioners are able to extract the same value from these resources. There is much evidence to indicate that commissioning is seriously underdeveloped and variable across the country.

'We would also urge the Healthcare Commission to consider what indicates 'good' reporting of errors by NHS staff. The report states that the number of staff who report errors and accidents remains high but we are aware of strong evidence from other sectors that high levels of error reporting can be a sign of an organisational culture that values safety. This shift in culture is vital if we want to learn from mistakes and adopt good practice.'

Notes to editors

1. For further information or interviews, please contact The King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585, or 07831 554927.

2. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through funding. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership development programmes; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.