Jeremy Hunt MP is the Secretary of State for Health.
Today we take another step towards building what I want to be the safest and most transparent health service in the world. The NHS is probably already one of the safer healthcare systems in the world but the tragedy of Mid Staffs and the bullying of staff revealed by Sir Robert Francis today show there is much work to do if we are to create a truly patient-centred culture which consistently embraces the highest standards.
Sir Robert said today the NHS has made remarkable progress in the last two years. But the best care is delivered by the staff who feel supported by their employer – particularly if they raise concerns – and too often that has not happened. We can increase funding on the back of a strong economy and improve models of care for an ageing population – but if we get the culture wrong we will never realise the NHS’s full potential. That culture needs to start with dignity and respect for every single patient using the system.
Sir Robert’s report contains graphic stories of bullying, cruelty and intimidation. Careers destroyed, lives ruined and hearts broken simply because people tried to speak out about poor care. And all the while the patients were forgotten as the system closed ranks to protect itself.
So I announced today we are taking action to change things: a new law to stop discrimination against NHS whistleblowers, new annual analysis to be published estimating avoidable deaths at every hospital, a new independent person based at the CQC for whistleblowers to appeal to if they feel their local trust has not followed proper processes. Encouragingly, the results of changes we have already made are beginning to bear fruit: at the weekend the independent Dr Foster said the new hospital special measures regime was probably reducing the number of avoidable deaths by 450 a year – which means that by the election we will probably save as many lives as some estimate were lost at Mid Staffs.
The difficult question though is for Labour: they shamelessly tried to ‘weaponise’ the NHS earlier this year even though the toxic bullying happened as a result of their own targets culture. If pleasing Ministers becomes the driving force in the NHS and those ministers want targets hit more than anything else…well, that’s when problems start for patients. The NHS must always be treated as a service for patients not a political possession.
But there is a way Labour can confound its sceptics: do the right thing in Wales where they run the NHS. They should set up a Chief Inspector of Welsh Hospitals to speak out for patients without fear or favour; back a Keogh-style review of Welsh hospitals with high mortality rates; and introduce the changes we are introducing in England to support staff who speak out. But none of these appear in Labour’s ’10 year plan’ for the NHS published two weeks ago.
Many people wish the political parties would find something other to argue about than health. If a long term consensus is possible, agreeing to put patients first and support staff who speak out would be the best possible first step towards it.