NHS England has started publishing data on key safety measures in hospitals, including ward-level staffing data.
However, the data currently only covers 1,304 out of approximately 2,300 hospitals in England.
A spokesperson for NHS England said that this is because some types of data only apply to certain trusts and some hospitals have not yet received a Care Quality Commission (CQC) rating.
He said: “This is an ongoing process and the data will be added to and refined over time.”
Individuals can now visit a new section of the NHS Choices website to search for their local hospitals - if they are listed - and see how they measure up according to seven safety indicators.
These include CQC standards, staffing levels, patient safety incidents, infection control and responding to patient safety alerts.
Until now, this data was not available to the public and could only be scrutinised by internal staff such as members of hospital boards, commissioners and regulators.
The ‘safe staffing’ category allows people to compare the actual level of average staffing with planned staffing levels on individual wards for the first time.
As it develops, the staffing data will be used as a barometer for local health services and “a warning signal that will trigger questions about services”, according to chief nursing officer for England, Jane Cummings.
When asked to provide concrete examples of how the data will be used to improve the delivery of services, NHS England declined to comment.
In a blog post on the NHS England website, Cummings said: “Every patient deserves great care wherever they are cared for. This will put a spotlight on any unacceptable variation. Trusts will need to explain any variation and can use the more granular information to put targeted improvements in place.”
She added: “Publishing more accessible and meaningful data will lead to greater public scrutiny, which will drive improvement.”
The release of the data is part of a wider ‘Sign up to Safety’ campaign, which aims to save 6,000 lives over the next three years by rooting out unsafe care and reducing preventable deaths.
In the wake of the Francis report last year into the scandal over the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of patients at Stafford Hospital, a number of initiatives and campaigns have been launched with the aim of improving transparency and accountability in the NHS.
For example Sir Robert Francis QC is also leading a review between now and November into creating an open and honest reporting culture in the NHS. In particular the review seeks to ensure NHS workers can raise concerns about the quality of care or wrongdoing at work and that their concerns are acted upon.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We have come a long way since Mid Staffordshire, however there are too many cases where NHS staff who have raised concerns about safety have been ignored. Today we have introduced measures to help tackle this head on.”