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Publish and be damned

Things have improved substantially since then — waiting list data and spending figures are now published monthly and areas like eHealth in particular, under the leadership of HSE Chief Information Office Mr Richard Corbridge, are taking a far more proactive approach to publishing information on activities and engaging with the public and the media.

In another welcome transparency move, last week the Department published the second annual report of the National Healthcare Quality Reporting system (NHQRS), which provides information on a range of patient outcomes, most notably heart and stroke outcomes from public hospitals, as well as immunisation uptake, cancer screening and survival, and management of various chronic diseases.

Information is also included on important areas like healthcare-associated infection rates and antibiotic usage, and the report highlights information gaps where new information streams are required, such as patient experience data.

There are a number of areas identified where room for improvement exists. In particular, considerable variation can be seen between counties in rates of hospitalisation for common chronic diseases.

The identification and, yes, the publication of such variations is a first step to addressing the reasons why they exist and to improving services so all patients receive the same level of care and achieve the best outcomes possible.

However, as Minister for Health Simon Harris said last week, the report also makes it clear that many areas of our health services are performing well. Immunisation rates have improved and cancer screening rates continue to improve. A continuing downward trend for hospitalisation for heart failure and for diabetes can also be observed. It also shows that survival rates for breast and colorectal cancer are improving. Another positive is the continuing downward trend of the last decade in deaths following admission to hospital with a heart attack or a stroke, though the outcome variations between hospitals attracted some headlines.

As the Minister put it: “ I know that many areas of our health service perform very well but it is unfortunately true to say that good performance receives far less attention than when things go wrong. Reports like this one help us see the bigger picture and take a broader and longer-term view of what is really happening in our health service. Of course, not everything is where we want it to be, but the first step in dealing with a problem is to know it exists.”

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