The Care Quality Commission has issued a warning to National Health Service trusts that they must address areas in which they are performing under par before the introduction of a new registration scheme in April next year.

The warning came after it emerged that 50% of NHS trusts are still failing to meet all core standards for care quality, which the organisation says will be a key indicator of whether a trust is performing well enough to register with the Commission and therefore whether it should be allowed to function.

On the plus side, however, an analysis of the NHS trusts’ declarations also revealed that 92% are now meeting at least 90% of the government’s core standards, which is a marked improvement on 2005/6 when the figure was 74%.

According to the CQC, the greatest improvement was achieved by the primary care sector, with 46% declaring full compliance with standards for services they provide directly compared with just 23% last year, while the acute care sector has remained stagnant.

And it seems hospitals are becoming better at meeting the quality benchmark for infection control, although one in five trusts is still failing to comply with at least one of the three related standards, the Commission stressed, showing that there is still much room for improvement.

Significant failings were also observed regarding child protection, safety and employment checks, with less trusts managing to hit target standards in these areas than in previous years. “It is disappointing to see standards are not improving,” said NHS Confederation deputy director of policy Jo Webber, “but it should be pointed out that in these cases trusts are both being expected to deliver more and are asking more of themselves”, she added.

Postcode lottery goes on
The declarations also revealed significant geographical variations in the performance of NHS trusts, which suggests that a postcode lottery of care still exists throughout the country. For example, while the number of trusts in the North West reporting full compliance grew by 6% to 70%, the number in the South East Coast area remained flat at just 18%.

Commenting on the overall findings, Cynthia Bower, chief executive of the CQC, said that while the NHS should be commended for steady improvements the Commission remains concerned that all trusts aren't meeting the core standards on safety and quality, which have now been in place for five years.

“I urge those trusts affected to raise their game in the areas identified and get compliant over the next few months,” she said, and stressed: “We will not hesitate to place conditions upon trusts' registration, as part of our new statutory powers”.