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banner Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Q&A: Hospital star ratings

A guide to hospital performance has been published by the government - but what do the ratings mean to patients?

BBC News Online answers some of the most common questions.

What is the government publishing?

Each of England's 170 hospital trusts - the organisations which run major hospitals for a town or district - is being given a rating of between zero and three stars.

These are intended to give a simple measure so that the public can understand how well managers are running that hospital.

Although a hospital will be given an overall star rating, this is the result of adding up approximately 20 separate ratings given for things which go on in the hospital.

These include everything from how long patients have to wait in A&E departments, to the overall cleanliness of wards.

Will the ratings show how good my hospital treatment will be?

Not really. These indicators do cover a small number of key "clinical" areas, they do not go into any detail about figures on death rates and infection rates after surgery.

They are intended primarily as a measure of how well the management team is doing, rather than how well clinical teams are performing.

A more detailed set of "clinical indicators" showing these things will be published later in the year.

What do the ratings mean for hospital managers themselves?

The stars (or lack of them) are not simply either a boost or a dent to the pride of managers.

They have real repercussions into the way they are allowed to run hospitals.

The government will give every hospital a share of 100m over the next year. How much a hospital get depends on their stars - and the way managers are allowed to spend it also depends on the rating.

A no-star, or one star hospital will get money, but won't be given free rein to spend it. Instead, the government will have to approve their plans via a body called the NHS Modernisation Agency.

A three-star hospital's managers will be able to spend as they please - they can even give out bonuses to hard-working staff to boost morale.

Is the government doing anything else to tackle the worst hospitals?

There is a threat that "hit squads" of top managers will be sent in to take over if the present teams cannot turn the hospital performance around quickly.

Will I be able to ask to be sent to a three-star hospital?

It is unlikely that the star system will have a dramatic effect on the hospital you are sent to by your GP.

However, it is conceivable that some groups of GP practices and health authorities will decide to buy your care from a different nearby local health trust in future if the star-ratings are very different.

However, there is only limited capacity in the NHS - not everyone can go to the hospitals with more stars.

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Links to more NHS Performance 2001 stories are at the foot of the page.