One of the first wave of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), the Dudley Commissioning Group, has recently fined the Dudley Group of Hospitals for failing to produce adequate discharge letters. Nothing earth-shattering there, you might think - except that the problem has been around for some time, yet the PCT hadn't managed to do anything to correct the situation.
Why did the PCT let the hospital get away with producing inadequate discharge letters in the first place? Isn't that what commissioning departments are supposed to be about - issuing contracts and ensuring that hospitals keep to their side of the bargain over standards? What is the point of elaborate commissioning agreements if hospitals aren't held to account?
Dudley isn't the only area to have had problems controlling unacceptable hospital behaviour - indeed, I suspect it's the norm. All too often hospitals have been a law unto themselves. Why has the DH allowed PCTs to install expensive commissioning departments, which in truth have no clout?
Waste of resources
This is one of the most blatant wastes of staff resources imaginable, to say nothing of the squandered opportunities to increase the quality of healthcare.
Do PCTs ever wonder why many GPs hate them so much? Could it be that GPs feel criticised by their PCTs, yet when hospitals blatantly flout standards and agreements, the PCTs somehow manage to do nothing?
What a welcome change to see that one of the new CCGs is already showing the grit and determination needed to deal with unsatisfactory behaviour from its secondary care providers.
Now that clinicians are in charge of commissioning we are at last going to see some action: no longer will we have to shrug our shoulders and put up with inadequate hospital staffing levels, frequently cancelled operations and poor-quality communication.
In the new NHS, when hospitals don't get their act together, the CCGs will simply smile - and fine them, until they deliver. Result.