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Francis Report (Staffing Levels)

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2013

4. What plans he has to implement the recommendation of the Francis report on safe staffing levels. (165201)

We agree with Robert Francis that there is a need for evidence-based guidance and tools to inform appropriate staffing levels. We have set out a number of recommended actions to support appropriate staffing levels in “Compassion in Practice”—the nursing, midwifery and care staff vision and strategy for England.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but Robert Francis said in his report that minimum safe staffing levels lead to helping patient safety. If the Secretary of State agrees with Robert Francis, why does he not implement that recommendation now?

I do agree with Robert Francis, but as he said in Nursing Times, there is an apparent misunderstanding by many people about what his recommendations actually were. This is what he said:

“I did not recommend there should be a national minimum staffing standard for nursing. The government was criticised for not implementing one, which it is said I recommended, which I didn’t.”

As someone who worked in the public services before my election here, I well understand the pressure put on public servants to cover up bad news. I was contacted by a nurse yesterday who informed me that concerns that were raised at a training day were dismissed by a matron—people were told to put them in the bin. Can the Secretary of State assure us that he will do everything to ensure that nurses who are concerned about staffing levels feel free to speak out and will be protected?

What my hon. Friend says is incredibly important. We must have a culture of openness and transparency inside the NHS, which means that people at the front line feel empowered to speak up if they think there is a problem. That has not happened in the past, and we are going to put it right.

The Secretary of State will make a statement shortly about the Keogh review. Two of the hospitals investigated are Basildon and Tameside. The previous Government left a warning in place on both trusts about patient safety. This Government have ignored those warnings and allowed both trusts to make severe cuts to front-line staff. Tameside has cut 128 nursing posts and Basildon an unbelievable 345. Given the warnings he inherited, why on earth has he allowed that to happen?

I am very surprised that the right hon. Gentleman wants to mention what happened at Tameside. Tameside had high death rates for eight years under Labour. The previous Government ignored a whistleblower in 2005, warnings to Parliament in 2006, a coroner’s report in 2006 and warnings from my predecessor in 2009. To cap it all, in 2009 the hospital was given a “good” rating by the Care Quality Commission. How bad is that?

I am afraid the Secretary of State is simply wrong. At the instigation of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), I ordered unannounced inspections into Tameside. The Secretary of State should get his facts straight before he comes to this Dispatch Box. He did not answer on staffing, and it gets worse, Mr Speaker. Seven of the 14 hospitals in the Keogh review have between them cut a shocking 1,117 nursing jobs on this Government’s watch. Unsurprisingly, A and E performance has plummeted at all seven. All 14 hospitals were meeting the A and E target in my time in office; none of them are meeting it under the Secretary of State. Is not the right response to the Keogh review to stop dithering and act now on safe staffing levels?

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the Keogh review before we have made our statement. I am particularly surprised because the Keogh review is the review that Labour never wanted to have, with high death rates in all those hospitals stretching back to 2005 and a record of inaction by Labour. As former—[Interruption.] I think the House might be interested to hear this. as former Labour councillor and Mid Staffs campaigner Ken Lownds said today:

“Can you imagine a Keogh review under Andy Burnham or any Labour Health Secretary? Not a chance.”