The Chief Quality Officer - healthcare leadership through quality?

By Andrew O'Hara

Last week’s appointment at Medway NHS Foundation Trust of Dr Trisha Bain as Chief Quality Officer has established quality as a key priority for the Trust.

The move comes after Medway, which was placed in special measures in July 2013, was rated ‘inadequate’ by the CQC in November last year.

In England, the way that the NHS looks at quality is changing, with increasing evidence that trusts are adopting a systemic approach to quality improvement.

As one of the first named Chief Quality Officers in England, Dr Bain’s appointment is a significant change in direction for quality management in the NHS, from complying with regulations to building improvement capability.     

Nick Black is Professor of the Health Services Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and for the last few years has been advocating the role of Chief Quality Officer at every trust in England.

Writing in October 2014 for the Health Service Journal, Professor Black argued that, to attain the radical changes that it needs to improve, the NHS needs “chief quality officers with vision to lead, inspire staff and facilitate rigorous assessment and improvement of quality throughout their trust.”

Speaking last week on Dr Bain’s appointment, Professor Black said: “Medway is exceptional in making this appointment. They are trailblazers. Hopefully, gradually, Medway is the start of a sea change in Trusts across the country.”

The creation and fulfilment of a Chief Quality Officer role within the NHS could have significant benefits, both for trusts and for quality management as a profession.

A Chief Quality Officer on the board of each hospital could address concerns over the expertise available to the NHS and ensure its understanding of quality can keep pace with that in other sectors.

The Trust’s appointment of a board member with a quality background signals a shift in focus to a systemic approach to managing quality that integrates quality compliance and nursing quality.

While the Medical Director and Chief Nurse will retain overall responsibility for quality, the Chief Quality Officer will use insight derived from intelligence and information to spread and sustain good practice.

The role’s additional responsibility for information systems also highlights the importance of data management in addressing the challenges facing the NHS, including the increasing complexity of care and the need to improve productivity.

The introduction of the Chief Quality Officer role at Medway is recognition of the importance at a board level of a dedicated focus on quality in terms of improving care.

Other trusts must now be watching Medway’s performance closely, as will many quality professionals who may see in the role of Chief Quality Officer the prospect of a seat on the board and the chance to show leadership through quality.

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