Jeremy Hunt is the Member of Parliament for South West Surrey and Secretary of State for Health. Follow Jeremy on Twitter.
Robert Francis QC’s report into the appalling
failures of care at Mid Staffordshire Hospital must mark a turning point for
our NHS. It lays bare the dreadful neglect and mistreatment suffered by
hundreds of patients between 2005 and 2009. It is truly shocking to read just
how comprehensive the failures were right across the system – from ward to
Whitehall. Hospital staff, managers, regulators and politicians all failed. It
took the courage and determination of the families who had suffered so terribly
to get the truth out.
I will need to study carefully all 290 recommendations before outlining our
full response but as the Prime Minister said in his statement yesterday, the
report makes some fundamental points about the culture of the NHS which apply
well beyond one hospital. This needs to be a ‘never again’ moment for the whole
It is clear from the report that a large driver for the awful events at Mid
Staffs was the Board’s pursuit of Foundation Trust status under the last Labour
Government, which led to a narrow focus on finance and targets at the expense
of patients. It cannot be right for a Board to be more concerned with targets
and finances than giving the most basic dignity and respect to patients. So we
will create a single failure regime where the suspension of the Board can be
triggered by failures in care as much as by failures in finance.
Quality of care matters as much as the success of an operation – which means a
zero tolerance of avoidable harm like bed sores and hospital acquired
infections. Just doing better than last year is not good enough. It also means
making sure the views of staff and patients are heard and acted upon. That’s
why we are introducing the friends and family test across all hospitals –
asking whether you would recommend the care you receive to a friend or family
member, and even more importantly asking NHS staff whether they would want
their own family treated in their own hospital. And it means acting quickly on
warning signs shown by mortality information – why is why the NHS Medical
Director is conducting an immediate investigation into the five trusts with persistently
high rates – Colchester, Tameside, Blackpool, Basildon and Thurrock and East
Most of all we must put compassion back at the heart of nursing so we recruit
people with the right values and not just the right academic qualifications.
We will underpin this with a new, rigorous inspection regime overseen by a
Chief Inspector of Hospitals. This will be based not just on metrics, which can
easily be gamed, but by an expert judgement as to whether or not a hospital is
really up to scratch when it comes to patient care. We need a system that is
transparent where there is failure – but also good at recognising success. When
Ofsted started recognising outstanding schools the new breed of superheads was
born. We need the same in the NHS because these are the people who will help us
turn around failure when it happens.
At its finest the NHS embodies the best of this country, so it is right that we
have the highest expectations of all those who work in it. Most of the
time that is exactly what they do and we should never allow the events at Mid
Staffs to overshadow the selfless care and compassion you can see from doctors,
nurses and healthcare assistants every day in wards throughout the country. But
the worst betrayal of them would be not to act on this report – and doing so
will be my single most important priority as Health Secretary.