The independent sector has performed better than any other category of inpatient provider in the first results of the NHS Friends and Family Test (FFT), with a total score for the sector of 92 compared to the average of 73.

In addition, six of the top 10 hospitals are run by private providers, in "a strong validation of the qualities independent providers can bring to NHS care when they are allowed to," according to David Worskett, Chief Executive of NHS Partners Network.

On the down side, the first batch of results from the test - a single question survey asking patients whether they would recommend the NHS service* they have received to friends and family who need similar treatment or care - showed that 36 out of 4,500 wards were so bad they received an overall negative score, though this is a reduction from the 66 wards in April. 

Ten A&E also scored negatively at least once between April and June, and one A&E department - Chase Farm Hospital in London - would not be recommended by patients for three month in a row.

Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s National Director for Patients and Information, said the results show "significant and real variation in the quality of customer service across the NHS".

"There are home truths here and everyone will expect those Trusts who have large numbers of their patients choosing not to recommend their services to respond as quickly as possible".

However, given the significant variation seen in response rates to the test, there remains a big question mark over its validity. Indeed, Kelsey cautioned that early data must be treated "carefully", as "low response rates can have a dramatically disproportionate impact on scores".

First announced by the Prime Minister in January 2012, the introduction of the FFT was seen by some as a bold move to promote openness in the NHS and improve care. 

*The FFT is initially for providers of NHS funded acute services for inpatients (including independent sector organisations that provide acute NHS services) and patients discharged from A&E.