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Jeremy Hunt MP is Secretary of State for Health and MP for South-West Surrey. Follow Jeremy on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-08-06 at 18.13.05Patient safety must be established as the most important priority in our NHS. That is the central conclusion of the excellent report published yesterday by world-renowned expert, Professor Don Berwick. As the events in Mid-Staffs showed, patient safety and care had become a secondary concern – overcome by financial reporting and a culture of targets at any cost. This is changing – our Government is driving a culture which puts patients first. Never again must we allow the system to take precedence over the individual.

As Professor Berwick notes, the key to this change is the engagement of the tremendous skill and goodwill within the NHS workforce. Our doctors and nurses are the NHS’ greatest asset and provide an outstanding quality of service in the vast majority of places. However, as Professor Berwick notes, we should seek continuous improvement if we are to achieve our vision of zero harm. In all, there were 326 so-called ‘never events’ reported in 2011/12. Work continues, aided by the Berwick report, to end this silent scandal of the NHS.


Indeed, since the publication of the Francis report, this Government has been swift and decisive in driving change. Our new Chief Inspector of Hospitals, transformed inspection regime, duty of candour on providers, publication of surgical outcomes data and the Keogh review into hospitals with high mortality are all profound breaks from the past. Our reforms to commissioning, putting clinicians in charge of how and where money is spent also underpin this overhaul of the system. On today’s advice, new actions will be taken forward on criminal sanctions, a duty of candour and safety measures.

I believe the culture is already starting to change in the way Professor Berwick says is required. In July 2013, 93 per cent of reported patients had harm-free care, compared with 91 per cent in July last year. However, as the recent report by Sir Bruce Keogh into fourteen hospitals with high mortality made clear, problems still exist and, in some places, failure has been entrenched for a decade or more. But this government will continue to identify, confront and resolve problems where they exist.

Improving the quality of leadership, protecting funding for the system, establishing a special measures regime, and driving improvements in IT and procurement all have a role to play. These are all important in ensuring that hospitals do all they can to ensure safe staffing levels. From hospital to hospital, ward to ward and from day to day, the appropriate number of nurses will change. But local leaders must ensure they have the right number of staff in the right place, and government must provide any tools and evidence needed for hospitals to make those judgements. The new Chief Inspector will then examine whether patients are getting the care they deserve.

For too long, patient safety has been a secondary concern in parts of the NHS and this has to change. Every patient should have confidence that their care will be safe. Every member of NHS staff should feel supported to make safe, high quality care the priority. This government will make the NHS the world leader in patient safety which our patients deserve.

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