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Monday, May 24, 1999 Published at 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK


Patients denied details on failing doctors

Jack Straw presents the draft bill to the House of Commons

Hospitals will not be forced to publish information on the performance of individual doctors despite tough draft legislation launched by Home Secretary Jack Straw.

Although the Department of Health will tell hospitals and health authorities to be as open as possible when dealing with the success rates of their doctors, they will still be able to keep names and figures secret.

A spokesman said: "The NHS should not issue information about individual clinicians - or related information in a way that identifies them.

"Doctors have rights to confidentiality as much as patients."

In practice, this means even figures about the performance of a hospital department, for example a surgical team, could be withheld if it is possible to identify a doctor from the figures.

In addition, a bar on divulging commercially-sensitive information means that the public is unlikely to be able to get information on controversial privately-financed hospital building deals.

Home Secretary Jack Straw says patients will be able to find out how their hospitals and health authorities spend NHS money under new freedom of information laws.

And it is not yet known whether information on individual doctors who are found to be performing badly in official statistics would be available.

However, decisions about how managers decide which drugs and treatments to spend money on will now be publicly available, said Mr Straw.

"Patients will be able to understand how hospitals allocate resources between different treatments, and how they prioritise waiting lists," he told the House of Commons.

This means that the thinking behind decisions on the rationing of treatments, for example the anti-multiple sclerosis drug beta interferon, will have to be made public.

And health authorities will have to explain the medical reasons why they have made the decision to have long waiting lists in one specialty, for example hip replacements, while prioritising another.

'Most should already be open'

But a spokesman for watchdogs at the Association of Community Health Councils said that much of this information should already be available under a "code of openness".

And she added that the health sector would still remain a maze to patients who would not know the right questions to ask to get the answers they want.

She also pointed out the dangers of publishing simple comparisons between work of different doctors.

"It's dangerous for patients as they could be misled by some of these simple statistics.

"Community health councils are in a far better position to make sense of this information and will have to take a more proactive role."

The NHS Confederation, which represents hospital managers, said that the NHS had a "long history of openness", but that much of the information that might be demanded by the public would be hard to produce without improved computer systems.

Policy Director Nigel Edwards said: "Issues surrounding the adequacy of current information systems must also be addressed.

"Many NHS organisations would find it difficult to fulfil public expectations with their current information systems."

Despite the changes, hospitals or health authorities would be probhibited from divulging personal information about patients' medical problems.

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