Providers of NHS services are now required to publish quality accounts – reports for the public on the quality of the services they provide. Quality accounts aim to:
- increase NHS accountability by making more information about quality available to the public
- encourage boards (or the equivalent senior management) to focus more on quality improvement.
Accounting for quality to the local community assesses how far current plans for quality accounts meet the first of those objectives. It outlines the conclusions of focus groups that were conducted with local community representatives, such as members of local involvement networks (LINks) and health overview and scrutiny committees (HOSCs), and with members and governors of foundation trusts.
Quality accounts provide a real opportunity to increase public accountability on quality. The discussions emphasise that providers should not simply fulfil the letter of the policy, but should take this opportunity to meet the far more difficult challenge of embracing the spirit of quality accounts.
This paper argues that providers should look at quality accounts as a year-round process and should seek input from their local community from the outset.
But there are clear challenges for all groups involved in the quality accounts process. While local community groups should be involved as early as possible in the process, there is a risk that the work this entails will put them under pressure. Providers and local community representatives need to work together to determine a desirable level of involvement.
Participants in the focus groups also emphasised the importance of the information provided to the public being robust, honest and presented in a readable way. Quality accounts will fail if they are not trusted by those who it is hoped will use them.
The paper includes recommendations for: policymakers, providers and commissioners, and local community representatives.