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Editor's blog Thursday 25 Novmeber: NHS Atlas Of Variation - DH does something brilliant

With the launch today of the new NHS Atlas Of Variation, the Department of Health has done something brilliant.

Talent borrows, genius steals
It is not, of course, something original - simply a UK version of the famous US Dartmouth Atlas mapping variation in healthcare provision.

Which makes it even better. If we are learning how to steal good ideas, then there is almost certainly some kind of hope.

It is unsurprisingly associated with one of the very smartest men in the NHS - the magnificent Muir Gray. He and his colleagues on this project have really done something positive for health and healthcare.

It will, of course, be embarrassing to those whose poor performance it outs. Good. There have been enough tools around for long enough (hello, NHS Comparators) that none of this should be even a little bit of a surprise. PCTs broadly failed to really improve NHS healthcare because they didn't know this stuff - or even worse, did know it but did nothing about it.

And of course, not all variation is unacceptable - positive variation is wonderful.

The future is about measurement and comparison, and then making evidence-based changes based on the resulting knowledge. Not top-down shouting: we have tested that approach to destruction.

The Dartmouth Atlas has been going a long time, and variations in appropriateness, quality and supply of healthcare in the US persist. But at least they are easy to identify there.

The NHS Atlas of Variation takes a heroic task onto its shoulders, meriting comparison with the Atlas of mythology. Well done Muir Gray and colleagues, and well done the Department of Health. This is a big, welcome step in the right direction.