Sir Ian Kennedy, former Chairman of the now redundant Healthcare Commission, has taken the helm of The King's Fund’s inquiry into the quality of general practice in England, just as the second phase of the project takes off.

The King’s Fund formally launched its 18-month inquiry back in April the second phase of which has just been launched at the NHS Alliance Annual Conference and Exhibition, currently taking place in Manchester, to “road-test” the findings from the research projects and discussion papers of the first phase of the inquiry “through a series of engagement events”, a King’s Fund spokesperson told PharmaTimes UK News.

Overall, the inquiry will collect and examine evidence on GP care and service provision over a number of key areas - including access to care, quality of diagnosis and referral, and care of patients with long-term illnesses - in the hope that these will form the basis of a new set of core measures that can be used as a benchmarking tool for quality across different practices.

The idea is, that identifying a new set of professional practice standards and highlighting areas in need of improvement will not only drive up the overall quality of primary care but also help to reduce the wide variation in standards and services seen across the country, and all during a key period of reform for the sector.

The inquiry will shortly launch a major survey to further explore the views of GPs, other primary care professionals and patients about the quality of care. The survey is still in the process of being finalised, but generally it will ask the opinion of frontline staff about the current methods for measuring quality and how they would rate them, the spokesperson explained.

In addition, there will be an extensive engagement phase in early 2010, in which findings from the inquiry’s research projects will be further road tested through a series of events with professionals “to ensure their views inform the final report and the development of quality measures”, the think-tank said.

Quality key
Quality has been the key focus of recent NHS reforms, and just a couple of weeks ago the government launched a new online portal to allow patients to rate GP practices in England online a la consumer comparison sites such as TripAdvisor, in the hope that adding a greater element of competition will help drive up quality standards in primary care as practices benchmark themselves against each other and battle for patients.

Sir Ian will take over the reigns of the inquiry from The King’s Fund’s chief executive Niall Dickson, who is leaving the charity to take on a new role as the General Medical Council’s chief executive in January 2010. Findings from the inquiry will be reported in September 2010.