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New 'harmonising' NHS watchdog begins work

Published on 06/04/04 at 11:27am

'Inspecting, informing, improving' is the motto of the new watchdog for both the NHS and private healthcare facilities.

Taking over from a number of disparate inspectorates including the Commission for Health Improvement and the Audit Commission, the new Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection (CHAI) will not be known by its official name but by the less threatening 'the Healthcare Commission'.The Commission replaces the Commission for Health Improvement and takes on functions of the National Care Standards Commission and the Audit Commission. Pending the passing of legislation it will also cover the operations of the Mental Health Act Commission, as well as a range of other new functions.

Speaking about the unifying effect of the new body, its chairman Sir Ian Kennedy, best known for the inquiry into deaths of children at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, said: "The intention is to harmonise them, to bring them all together, so that wherever you're treated you can say that I'm entitled to the same level of quality and care."

The new Commission is aiming to be more patient and staff-orientated than its predecessors and its many powers include investigating patient complaints if there is an issue with how a case is addressed by local health organisations.

Anna Walker, chief executive of the Healthcare Commission, said: "We aim to focus on the issues of most concern to patients and those who work in health services. Meetings to discuss our future work programme will take place across the country in the next few months. We also invite feedback through our website (www.chai.org.uk) or in writing."

On its first day in operation, the Commission wasted no time in flexing its muscles by announcing intentions to sue 33 plastic surgery clinics for not complying with regulations.

The watchdog inspectors are to visit hospitals and clinics across the UK, publishing reports and compiling annual NHS star ratings, while strategic studies into how to ensure value for money in important areas of the health service, carried out by the Audit Commission, will also be continued by the new body.

The Commission will also be more independent of government than previously, reporting to Parliament rather than government ministers.

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