Jeremy Hunt’s Comments on Stafford Hospital

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned that NHS managers will lose their jobs if they preside over failings in care. Mr Hunt said “proper accountability” was needed in the NHS. He made these comments ahead of a report into failings at Stafford Hospital, which is expected to be published in the next few months.

Between 2005 and 2009 there were hundreds more deaths than expected at the hospital and some of those deaths were caused by the failings. A public inquiry has been looking at how the failures in care were allowed to happen by managers and regulators.

Ahead of its report, Mr Hunt called for “total openness and transparency when things go wrong and a change of culture to give greater priority to compassion. Just as a manager wouldn’t expect to keep their job if they lost control of their finances nor should they expect to keep it if they lose control of the care in their organisation either“.

The report will consider why and how a culture of poor care is allowed to develop in some parts of the NHS and then persist. Stafford was monitored by local and regional health managers and a host of patient safety agencies and regulators. Doctors and nurses working there were part of professional bodies.

Recent reports from the Patients Association and the CQC have indicated that such lapses are not unique to this one hospital. Many are now hoping the Francis Inquiry will provide a clear vision for how such poor standards can be eradicated once and for all. The Patients Association backed Mr Hunt’s comments saying “managers and boards must be held accountable for what goes on within their trusts and the appropriate action must be taken“.

The inquiry was established by the coalition in 2010 and cost £10m. It was prompted by a 2009 Healthcare Commission (HC) report, which listed a series of failings, including receptionists assessing patients arriving at A&E and a shortage of nurses and senior doctors.

Managers were found to have been distracted by targets and cost-cutting, and regulators were accused of failing to pick up problems quickly enough, despite warnings from staff and patients. Mr Hunt said the events at Stafford represented “the most shocking betrayal of NHS founding values in its history“. He promised to introduce a system of patient feedback which would be published whereby every hospital in-patient will be asked whether they would recommend the care they received to family or friends.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association said “the changes necessary will only be achieved through a change in attitude and a commitment from management to training and adequate staffing levels, all within a culture of transparency and accountability – and the patients need to be put at the centre of the service“.

Anna Dixon, director of policy at the Kings Fund, a charity that works to improve healthcare in England said “regulation plays a vital role in safeguarding the quality of patient care, but most crucial is frontline staff who need support to do a good job and to speak up and take action when needed“.

Lyn Hill-Tout, chief executive of Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, said in a statement “The Care Quality Commission lifted all concerns it had about Stafford Hospital in July 2012. Our mortality rates are second best out of 41 Trusts in the Midlands and East of England region and have been consistently better than the level expected for the last few years. None of our patients has acquired MRSA infection in hospital since February 2012 and our Clostridium Difficile rate continues to fall year on year“. She added that “the terrible care received between 2005 and 2009 is not representative of the care patients now receive in our hospital. We are not complacent, we know we don’t get it right every time, but we do not hide the facts when things are not as good as what we would want them to be“.

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