Uplifting examples and a picture of the future at QualityWatch 2015

Consultant paediatrician Dr Mando Watson discusses highlights and key learning from the QualityWatch annual conference.

Blog post

Published: 16/11/2015

“We can only be sure to improve what we can actually measure,” wrote Lord Darzi in High Quality Care for All. I was reminded of this this week when QualityWatch hosted a conference to coincide with the release of its third annual statement, Closer to Critical?

Measuring what is important

At Connecting Care for Children (CC4C) we’ve reflected before on the challenges and the importance of measurement, and we recognise that we often measure what is measurable, rather than what is important.

The earliest lesson in medicine is to ‘first do no harm’... there is certainly scope for doing harm by choosing the wrong metrics.

I am mindful that the earliest lesson in medicine is to ‘first do no harm’, and if we paraphrase Lord Darzi’s quote as ‘you deliver what you measure’, then there is certainly scope for doing harm by choosing the wrong metrics.

The QualityWatch annual statement rightly expresses concern that the current financial squeeze poses a serious risk to healthcare quality, and the programme has chosen three topics of concern to focus on this year:

  1. How easily patients can access care.
  2. How engaged and motivated the workforce is.
  3. How well we look after the health of children and young people.

This resonates strongly. CC4C’s Child Health GP Hub model improves access and supports workforce development. And it goes without saying that our work is all about children and young people.

Building a high quality workforce

People deliver healthcare, so getting the right staff with the right training matters. At the QualityWatch conference, Professor Martin Roland and Dr Hilary Cass painted a picture of the future in their session on building a high-quality workforce. These quotes from Martin’s report, The Future of Primary Care, are superb.

  • "We regard it as outdated that GPs and specialists are unable to communicate freely by email or by electronic messaging. Although some areas have commissioned services that enable GPs to email specialists for advice, these remain the exception rather than the rule. Often people need to be referred to hospital just for a simple query to be answered. At a time when there is so much focus on integration of care, it seems bizarre to us that provision is not made within the job plans and contracts of both GPs and specialists to encourage this basic level of communication."
  • "We think it will soon look outdated that, in an age where so much communication occurs by email, few people can email their GP or practice nurse. In contrast, 86 per cent of GPs in Denmark (see box) and 46 per cent in the Netherlands use email regularly to communicate with patients."

I am so glad we have provision for this in the CC4C Child Health GP Hub, and have shared our insights both through a blog and in a letter published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood

Hilary’s important message, that ‘we need to stop the hospital being the happening place to be’, was picked up on Twitter. The more I see, the more I recognise how much the GP practice is already the happening and the trusted place to be.

An uplifting example

The highlight of the day for many will have been the uplifting example from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust where, as new Chief Executive David Evans explained, they have been improving quality and reducing costs.

The more I see, the more I recognise how much the GP practice is already the happening and the trusted place to be.

David, who was previously the trust’s Medical Director, said that the clear message was to focus on safety and quality and these will deliver the cost savings. A simple example was their ability to expand the number of orthopaedic surgeons through savings made by standardising the types of implants used. 

All staff at the trust participate in quality improvement and patients are deeply involved. Undoubtedly, this patient participation is a key strength, and as Ben Holden writes, it might be medicine’s next big breakthrough. Interesting, too, that by being far away from Whitehall, David Evans said they were able to get on and do things ‘without permission’.

So what hope is there for us, based in London? Can we possibly make radical changes across the whole system that will enable high quality care for children and young people? Well, perhaps we will be fine: so often I hear despondency about Whitehall leaving children’s services alone. Perhaps we should be pleased about that, after all.

Dr Mando Watson is a consultant paediatrician at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. A longer version of this blog was originally published on the C4CC website. Please note that the views expressed in guest blogs on the QualityWatch website are the authors' own.