Independent Private Healthcare Regulation: Closing The Gap Between Private And Public Healthcare?
What is the Private Healthcare Information Network and how does it fit into the public and private healthcare sectors?
What is the PHIN?
The Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) presents itself as an independent, government-mandated organisation publishing performance and fees information about private consultants and hospitals. Its members assert that greater transparency and better information not only helps people make more informed choices, but also helps hospitals and consultants to improve their services. Its three main areas of focus are patient choice, supporting clinical governance, information and regulation, and being a positive voice for system change.
The PHIN is made up of voting Members, including founding hospital groups, private medical insurers and organisations representing consultants.
In 2014, the Competition and Markets Authority, a UK regulator of business competition , found that the public needed clearer information in order to make informed choices about private hospitals or consultants. Following this investigation, the CMA required all hospitals and consultants offering private treatment to submit data to the PHIN as the Information Organisation (IO) for private healthcare.
The PHIN Chief Executive Matt James “applauds those hospitals that have provided complete data, and encourage those that have not to do so.” Between December 2017 and June 2018, Digital Health published that approximately 4,000 consultants logged in to PHIN’s online portal to review and update their clinical data.
What do the new statistics show?
On 15 March 2022, the PHIN published new statistics identifying 22 instances where private healthcare patients sustained serious injuries in the 12 months prior to September 2021. The statistics contextualised these instances within 734,000 patients receiving private treatment during this timeframe.
These 22 instances were defined as the most serious incidents, reportable by law, to health regulators such as the Care Quality Commission. They include permanent injuries to a patients’ bodily, sensory, motor, physiologic or intellectual functions.
Data collected by the PHIN has also been collated into downloadable datasheets in various areas including hospital reported adverse events, volume and length of stay, patient feedback, infections, and never events, among others. These are accessible on its website.
A word of caution is that the datasheets are dense and, according to the PHIN website, these resources are aimed at professionals and academics to help them better understand care that is provided, and where improvements can be made.
Cooperation between sectors
As well as collating private healthcare data, the PHIN launched a joint consultation with the NHS in February 2020 following the Paterson Inquiry aiming to align private healthcare with NHS recorded activity .
This initiative, called the Acute Data Alignment Programme (ADAPt), aimed to see performance data published by private hospitals integrated into NHS systems. This is hoped to address cases in which an individual may have received care privately and therefore has treatment information missing from their NHS health record. The programme is being jointly led by NHS Digital and PHIN, in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, NHS Improvement, and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
In its response to the Paterson Inquiry on December 16th 2021, the government recommended a single repository of the whole practice of consultants across England while acknowledging the hurdles to creating this kind of unilateral database.
What does this mean for people’s healthcare choices?
The long term aim of the PHIN’s data collection and publishing agenda appears to be increased transparency in the private sector, to allow patients to make informed choices about their healthcare.
Additionally, cooperation between the PHIN and the NHS aims to plug gaps in patient’s records to ensure both their GP surgery and any private provider holds complete records relating to their medical history.
If this aim is realised, it may go some way to providing greater efficacy and safety where patients receive treatment from multiple providers. One possible benefit could be that clinical negligence solicitors are able to more easily obtain complete and full medical records for their clients when bringing a claim, although records may still be held by multiple providers within the NHS.
Over time, the data collected by the PHIN may also highlight differential instances of serious injury in the NHS versus private healthcare. Even between private healthcare providers, it will allow increased accountability and transparency for patients to make informed decisions about their treatment providers.
However, the project is still in its early stages and the PHIN Chief Executive notes “It is too early to draw any meaningful conclusions from comparisons between providers or with the NHS.” It remains to be seen whether insights from the project will help increase standards of care in both sectors.