Conservative Party leader David Cameron has called for an information revolution in the National Health Service to remove top-down government targets and raise standards of care.

The call comes in the wake of the tragedy at Stafford Hospital, where hundreds of people died because of “appalling” standards of care - which allegedly included patients drinking out of vases - and “chaotic systems for looking after patients,” said Sir Ian Kennedy, the Healthcare Commission's Chairman.

The Tories argue that, alongside a breakdown in management, top-down targets imposed by the government throughout the NHS “contributed to hundreds of deaths at Stafford”. In addition, the party says the “closed culture” at the hospital also played a significant role because there was too little information available to the public about the problems, which they claim management not only failed to take any action on but also tried to “hush up”.

According to Cameron, to prevent further tragedies such as that at Stafford “centrally-imposed process targets that distort clinical judgements and make the NHS answer to politicians” need to be scrapped. He believes that “opening up the NHS with a genuine information revolution – a revolution that puts power in the hands of people,” will help doctors respond better to patients and genuinely saves lives.

There has undoubtedly been a greater focus on data collection by the NHS in recent times under the government’s drive to help patients make informed choices about their healthcare, but the Tories say the information is “inaccessible and indecipherable” to most patients as it is focused on regulators and hospital managers instead.

Furthermore, the party says there is currently a “chronic” lack of reliable and relevant information about treatments offered at local hospitals, with a greater emphasis currently placed on how many patients visiting A&E are seen within the four-hour time limit than how well they were treated.

The government has recently moved to address this to some extent with the introduction of Patient-Reported Outcome Measures, but according to the Conservatives these are “far too narrow as they only refer to four procedures”. Therefore, the party pledges to develop PROMs to help make the NHS “fully responsive to patients’ needs”, by designing questionnaires that “capture the things we know matter to people, such as ward cleanliness and whether nurses treated them with dignity and respect”.

Patient-led NHS
The party claims that its plan for an information revolution will ultimately take NHS accountability away from politicians and place it in the hands of patients, thereby allowing the NHS to “at last become genuinely patient-led”.

Under the party’s plans, NHS boards would publish commissioning guidelines – to be drawn up with help from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence - to provide evidence-based treatment standards that patients can expect.

The new health and social care regulator the Care Quality Commission would then be responsible for checking this data against outcomes and service standards to assess the overall performance of healthcare providers, which would provide patients with more relevant information and help them make more informed choices, the Tories argue.

According to Cameron, the new proposals will help to induce a shift to an NHS that “puts power in the hands of people, makes doctors respond to patients and genuinely saves lives.”