AN INNOVATIVE regime of internal ward inspections is to be piloted across hospitals in East Lancashire.

Bosses at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust which runs Burnley General Hospital and Royal Blackburn Hospital will take the ‘brave’ step of publishing the findings, in a bid to foster healthy competition between wards and driving improvements.

The move will mean patients about to embark on a hospital stay will soon be able to look up ratings for individual wards – the same way parents can check what rating schools regulator Ofsted gave their children’s schools.

The ratings will be similar to those used by the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted.

Chief nurse Christine Pearson said the unannounced visits, set to be piloted on six wards in April, will involve up to five people visiting the wards to talk to staff and patients, review documentation and watch staff prepare for and deliver meals.

Before the visits, also involving the community hospitals in Accrington, Pendle and Clitheroe, the teams will look at complaints, patient feedback, sickness and infection rates and patient harm.

The scheme, called the Nursing Assessment and Performance Framework, has been driven internally, and is aimed at identifying and dealing with problems quickly, rather than failings becoming embedded and highlighted by national inspection teams.

Azhar Ali, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “I think anything which gives patients confidence in the quality of care is a good thing.

“However we need to understand that nurses are under huge pressure because of NHS cuts and a lack of hospital beds.

“We need to invest in our NHS and we need to make sure that staff don’t become burdened with paperwork rather than treating patients one-to-one.”

A handful of hospitals in the North West already run similar schemes.

If patients don’t like the findings then can choose to treated at an alternative hospital.

Russ McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group, said: “This is a real indicator of just how far forward the trust has moved. There can be no doubt in my mind that directors, managers and staff are showing a very real drive and determination to be as open and transparent an organisation as they can be.”

Kevin McGee, the trust’s chief executive, said: “I’m delighted with this strategy. The assessment framework is a brave thing to do but it’s the right thing to do. We need to make sure our nurses take ownership of it.”