Expert tips to find and choose the best hospital

Sir Mike Richards talking

How do you get the best hospital or healthcare in your local area? Sir Mike Richards, the Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the Care Quality Commission, reveals his top four tips.

1 Look at NHS Choices

First, go onto the NHS Choices website. Click on ‘find local services’ and select the type of service you need, and type in your postcode. You can order the list depending on your priorities, for example, distance from your home, cleanliness, or whether staff would recommend it.

2 Check ratings

English healthcare services are rated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). See ratings or call 03000 616161. You can get similar reports from Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, and Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority in Northern Ireland.

Before an inspection, the CQC collects patient surveys, national clinical audits (such as heart attack audit or stroke audit) and staff surveys. Inspectors then spend around a week in a hospital, and talk to patients and staff.

“The inspection team is often 40 or 50 people,” says Sir Mike. “That sounds huge, but when you work out that’s four or five people going into each department, you can suddenly see that it’s not a vast number in any one area. I’ve absolutely no doubt we can tell the difference between outstanding and inadequate services.”

But there are limits to the available information. Sir Mike admits you can’t always tell if an ‘outstanding’ hospital has a poor cardiology department, unless specifically mentioned. “We don’t necessarily always look separately at cardiology or cardiac surgery,” he says. “But where we have any indication that there’s a problem there, we will. I do wonder if we need to think about how we can give a better perspective to certain core groups of patients. This is something that we are thinking about in terms of our next phase of inspections.”

3 Speak to your local Healthwatch

This England-wide organisation aims to empower patients, helping them research options or understand ratings. Find your local Healthwatch or call their enquiries line 03000 683 000.

Interim Chair of Healthwatch England Jane Mordue says: “Our aspiration is to ensure the people’s voice is being heard. In 2015 we had 300,000 public contacts (people writing or calling in). About 40 out of 152 local Healthwatch organisations provide a TripAdvisor-style rating service for local care, but others have their own websites. It’s important that people feel more involved in their care, and they need support to make informed choices.”

Our aspiration is to ensure the people’s voice is being heard

Jane Mordue, Healthwatch England

In Wales, contact your Community Health Council, or the Patient Client Council in Northern Ireland, or the Scottish Health Council.

4 If there’s a problem, complain

Speak to whoever treated you, or a senior member of staff. If that doesn’t help, try your local clinical commissioning group. In Scotland, contact the feedback team at your local NHS health board. In Wales, contact your health board’s concerns team. Or in Northern Ireland, contact the Public Services Ombudsman. Search online or ask your GP practice for more information.

  • Click here for more information about choosing your NHS Care.

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