Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement to the House about a package of measures that I have announced today to boost safety, transparency and openness in our NHS. It follows my earlier written ministerial statement.
Just last week, the independent Commonwealth Fund said that under this Government the NHS has risen to be the top-rated health care system in the world. Despite many challenges in our NHS, it is therefore clear that we have much to be proud of. However, it is also clear that there is more to do. It is estimated that for 12,000 deaths a year in hospitals there was a 50% or greater chance of their being prevented. Figures released by NHS England today tell us that there were 32 never events in the past two months, including cases of a throat pack and a hypodermic needle being left inside patients post-surgery. These are shocking statistics.
In the Government’s response to Sir Robert Francis’s landmark public inquiry on the poor standards of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, I made clear our determination to make the NHS the safest and most open health care system in the world. Today, all hospital trusts around the country will therefore receive an invitation to the Sign up to Safety campaign, which is led by Sir David Dalton, the inspirational chief executive of Salford Royal. The campaign will help us to achieve our ambition of halving avoidable harm, thereby potentially saving 6,000 lives. Trusts will be asked to devise and deliver a safety plan, and may receive a financial incentive from the NHS Litigation Authority to support implementation.
We are fulfilling the pledge that we made in our response to Francis to create a hospital safety website for patients. As of today, the NHS Choices website will tell us how all hospital trusts are performing across a range of seven key safety indicators, including one for open and honest reporting. For the first time, the website will let patients and the public see whether a hospital has achieved its planned levels for nursing hours. Indeed, I am pleased to inform the House that the latest work force statistics, published today, show us that we have 5,900 more nurses in our hospital wards since our response to Francis just over a year ago.
Finally, I am pleased to announce today that Sir Robert Francis QC will chair an independent review on creating an open and honest reporting culture in the NHS. The review will provide advice and recommendations to ensure that NHS workers can speak up without fear of retribution. It will also look at how we can ensure that where NHS whistleblowers have been mistreated, there are appropriate remedies for staff and there is accountability for those who have mistreated them.
I am confident that the package of measures announced today will shine a light on poor care so that lessons can be learned, action can be taken and harm to patients can be prevented. In the process, we will support front-line staff to help the best health care system in the world blaze a trail on issues of safety, transparency and compassionate care.
The Health Secretary rightly calls for openness, transparency and accountability. It is a pity that that does not extend to his dealings with this House. He spent the morning touring TV studios, but could not find the time to come to the Chamber. Is that because he has signed away day-to-day control of the NHS, as his public health Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison)—let slip, or is it because he did not want to face questions on the damning criticism of him from the outgoing president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who says that he is ignoring the “car crash” in mental health? Either way, it should not be left to us to drag the Secretary of State to the House.
An open, learning culture in all parts of the NHS is an ambition shared across this House and it builds on the work of the last Government following care scandals in the 1990s. More information is welcome, but how will the Secretary of State guard against the risk, as expressed this morning by Martin Bromiley, of creating a “naming, shaming and blaming” culture? He has just told the House that a fifth of hospitals are failing to report properly. Why is that and how will he correct it?
The Secretary of State mentions the Commonwealth Fund and I join him in celebrating the standing of the NHS. He implies that it has all been achieved in the past four years. That is pure spin. I remind him that the NHS first came top in 2007 and that this year’s report specifically traces the NHS’s recent success to reforms implemented by the last Labour Government and to the Darzi report, which it says led to
“an increased emphasis on improving the quality of care provided by the NHS.”
Perhaps the Secretary of State will reflect that analysis in any future statement on the previous Government’s record.
The Secretary of State promises new data on infection—one area where the Commonwealth Fund found cause for concern compared with 2010, with the NHS now ranked worst in the world for patients reporting infection in hospital or shortly after. What is he doing to turn that worrying trend around? On staffing, will he commit to publishing figures on how many of the nurses he mentioned are agency nurses? Is the NHS not now spending a fortune on agency staff—£1.4 billion, 162% higher than planned—because, in the first four years of this Parliament, the Government and the then Secretary of State, who is now the Leader of the House and sitting on the Front Bench, cut nurse training places by 10,000?
The Secretary of State talks about his new target to save 6,000 lives over three years. Can he explain how that will be achieved when people are now waiting longer to start treatment for cancer, when NHS waiting lists have hit a six-year high and when ambulance response times are getting longer? Is not that the real reason he was afraid to come here today? The NHS is getting worse on his watch and the Government have surrendered their power to do anything about it.
We talk about many things and there will always be political differences between Opposition and Government Members, but I would have thought that on patient safety, on saving patients’ lives, on dealing with the issue that once a week in the NHS we operate on the wrong part of someone’s body and on other terrible issues, there might be a degree of consensus. It is incredibly disappointing that, again, the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to make a political football out of something that should be above party politics.
Let me go through the right hon. Gentleman’s points. This morning in the radio studios, I talked about fulfilling a pledge that I made to the House in my response to Francis—that we would publish staffing data, something that he never did when he was in power. We have done that for 6,700 wards throughout the country, because we want to end the scandal of short staffing that happened on his watch and directly led to Mid Staffs.
I am delighted to come to the House. I have made a written ministerial statement. I often come to the House and I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has raised this issue. As he has raised some specific points, I need to address them. He quoted what the outgoing president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said, but he failed to mention what the incoming president said this morning, which was to praise the remarkable work done by this Secretary of State and his Ministers to raise the issue of mental health.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the Commonwealth Fund. Let us look at that. When he was Secretary of State, we fell from being top-rated in the world to being second. We are now back on top. He has spent the past four years saying that under the coalition Government the NHS is going to rack and ruin. Someone who is independent has now looked at it and said that we are the best in the world. The right hon. Gentleman should reflect on that before he starts to criticise and run down the NHS.
Let us talk about agency nurses. I am very proud of the fact that, in just over a year, we have 5,900 more nurses on our wards. That is an increase of 4,000 nurses across the system compared with when Labour was in power. Why is that? It is because we are doing something about the issue of safety and compassionate care—issues that the right hon. Gentleman repeatedly swept under the carpet when he was Health Secretary.
Finally, let me make this point. We are doing something that is a world first today: we are publishing staffing data on a hospital-by-hospital, ward-by-ward basis. Yes, we are also publishing which hospitals do not have an open and transparent reporting culture. Creating transparency about failures has, I am afraid, become one of the biggest dividing lines in this House. I think it is a very great shame that every time I raise the issue of poor care in the NHS, the right hon. Gentleman accuses me of running down the NHS and softening it up for privatisation, when what I am actually doing is standing up for patients, which is what he should have done when he was Health Secretary.
I welcome today’s announcements. Unsafe care in the NHS carries not only a terrible personal cost, but a terrible financial cost—£1.3 billion a year in litigation alone—and I welcome the announcement of Sir Robert Francis’s review. Will the Secretary of State use this opportunity to reassure NHS staff that they do not need to wait for the outcome of that review, and that if they raise concerns about unsafe practice, not only will they be protected, but they would be failing their patients if they failed to do so?
I start by welcoming my hon. Friend to her new position as Chair of the Health Select Committee, which I think she will do brilliantly well. I also thank her for the fact that she had been talking about this issue long before she took up that post, and as someone who has worked in the NHS, she has always recognised its importance.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that NHS staff should not wait until the outcome of the new Francis review before speaking out. My view is that the atmosphere is beginning to change inside the NHS. We are getting trust boards that are now spending much more time talking with safety, but the reason I wanted to have this review is that there are problems and issues across the world with people in health care speaking out, and nowhere has really embraced the culture of safety that we have in the airline, nuclear and oil industries, where concerns about safety are on a completely different level. I know that I have the wholehearted support of NHS staff in this mission; I think it is a shame that we do not have the support of the Labour party.
In response to the Francis report in relation to the duty of candour, the Government said that it should be on institutions and not on individuals. Given that the Government appear not to want to bring in new regulatory bodies in relation to individual action inside the national health service, does the Secretary of State have any faith in the regulatory bodies currently looking after health professionals, given the state that Mid Staffs hospital ended up in?
We looked carefully at whether the duty of candour should apply to individuals, and we decided against that because we were worried about creating a legalistic culture in trusts. However, we are working with the regulatory bodies. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise concerns, as they were indeed raised in the Francis report. Following on from my earlier response, one of the lessons that we learned from the airline industry is that pilots are professionally protected if they speak out, so on balance it is to their advantage to speak out rather than to shut up. As a result of that reporting of safety incidents, near misses and so on, the industry has achieved a remarkable reduction in accidents. I would like to see whether we can do the same thing in the NHS.
One of my constituents spoke out against malpractice at the hospital where she worked and was subsequently vindicated at a tribunal, but she lost her job and has been unable to find work in the national health service ever since. Is it not time that we put an end to some kind of blacklist that stops people being re-employed when they have done the right thing?
I would like to thank my hon. Friend for the support that she has given to her constituent, whom I think I have also met. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have to stop this system of consequences for people who do the right thing and speak out. It is not right for me to comment on an individual case, because legal proceedings are often involved, but one hears of situations where people have spoken out and then been victimised by a trust, and that is wrong. We need to be better at looking after whistleblowers, but we need to go further and eliminate the need for whistleblowing by creating a culture where trusts are hungry to hear from their own staff about safety concerns because they want to put them right.
An Exeter psychiatric nurse of more than 20 years’ standing wrote to me in despair this week saying that
“mental health services are in collapse”,
and that patients are regularly placed in “life threatening” situations or sent as far away as Bradford because there are no beds locally. Vulnerable people are waiting a shocking three months for the co-ordination of their care. How dare the Secretary of State come to the House today and claim that our mental health services are not in crisis?
There are real pressures in our mental health services, but the right hon. Gentleman should recognise the progress that the Government have made. That includes doubling the money going into talking therapies, having global summits on dementia and putting a massive amount of money towards raising the profile of dementia in this country and across the globe, and legislating for parity of esteem as between mental and physical health—something that never happened under the previous Government. There is a lot of work to do, but I think he should give credit where it is due.
On transparency of staffing levels, does my right hon. Friend know that the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Health Trust vacancy level for nurses is now 4%, against a regional average of 10%? That is obviously an increase in nurses in my area, and I thank him for that.
I welcome the increase in nursing across the country, and I am surprised that Labour Members do not welcome it. When I started in this job they spoke constantly about nursing numbers, but I notice they have now stopped doing that. Although those numbers are an important first step, it is not possible to compare trust with trust at this stage because they are all self-reported numbers. Over the next months—certainly by next spring—we will go through all the figures ensuring that NICE-approved tools are used to fulfil them. We will then see how trusts are doing compared with each other, which will be useful to them.
As a member of the Health Committee, I am disappointed that the Secretary of State does not understand that being dragged to the House to answer an urgent question is not the same as coming here to make a statement. I would prefer to hear first in this House what the Government are doing.
The Secretary of State mentions the leadership of David Dalton and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, but that leadership led to safe staffing levels, which he has not supported. A recent Nursing Times survey found that the majority of nurses said that their wards were dangerously understaffed. I hear from nurses who are working with ratios of 2:22, 2:24 or 2:28—that is the reality. Does he think it is time he apologised for cutting the number of nurses?
Again, I am surprised that we do not have more agreement. If the hon. Lady looks at the figures, she will see that in the past year there have been 5,900 more nurses on our wards. Why does she not welcome that? We are using Salford Royal—a brilliant hospital that she knows well—to lead a safety campaign across the whole country to learn from the brilliant things that it is doing. I put a written statement before Parliament, and nothing I said this morning is not in the public domain. I would be delighted to come to the House any time to make an oral statement, and I notice that far more coalition MPs want to ask questions about safety and compassionate care than do Labour MPs.
My right hon. Friend will remember some of the issues that I raised in the House about patient safety, and the Francis report, the Keogh review, and the new Care Quality Commission regime have made a material improvement. On Friday last week, Buckingham Healthcare NHS Trust was the second trust to emerge—at last—from special measures. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating that trust, and express the hope that that marks a new beginning about which we can be optimistic?
I would be delighted to do that. Incredible hard work by doctors, nurses and health care assistants on the front line of my hon. Friend’s local hospital has meant that the trust has come out of special measures, which the whole House should celebrate. Indeed, it was helped in that by Salford Royal, and one of the most encouraging things about the new special measures regime is that we are pairing up hospitals in difficulty with other hospitals that have a better record, and we are getting tremendous results.
Clinical commissioning groups commission services in hospitals. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with CCGs to ensure that when they commission services they particularly look to ensure transparency and that patient safety is the highest priority in their discussions?
We have a lot of discussions, and the hon. Gentleman is right: the commissioning of care is vital and we need CCGs to play their part. We have many discussions with NHS England about how to do that, and we will be considering how we can make CCGs more publicly accountable for their record in those areas.
Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust has managed to make multi-million pound recurring savings over the past couple of years and is now in the black. At the same time it has managed to create 400 new jobs in the trust, almost all of which are new doctors and nurses. Does that not demonstrate that it is possible for the NHS both to meet the Nicholson challenge, and to recruit more doctors and nurses to improve and enhance patient safety?
It certainly does, and that is another area where it would be refreshing to have a bit more openness from the Labour party. We can afford 8,000 more doctors and 4,000 more nurses in our NHS than when Labour was in power because we got rid of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, and 20,000 administrative jobs that were not on the front line—a change that Labour opposed bitterly every step of the way. Labour Members must say what would happen to those doctors and nurses if we repealed the Health and Social Care Act 2012, as they have publicly committed to do.
If the Secretary of States wants some kind of TripAdvisor-style scheme for the NHS that is fine; it may improve safety and it may help patient choice. However, a woman who has fallen to the bottom of her stairs and is waiting hours for an ambulance does not have a choice. That is happening now and it was not happening five or six years ago. What is he going to do about that?
First, I will ensure that throughout the system when we have failures in care we are completely transparent about them and do not seek to brush them under the carpet. That is a very important change. Secondly, yes there is pressure on ambulance services, just as there is pressure in most parts of the NHS now, but under this Government our ambulance service is taking 1,000 more people every day on emergency journeys. We should credit it with doing a very good job in difficult circumstances.
I commend my right hon. Friend for being determined to create a different and more effective safety culture in the NHS, just as in the airline or oil and gas industries. Does he accept that publishing more data is only part of the equation and will not necessarily change attitudes and behaviours, particularly if those data are then gamed at another target? We must tackle attitudes and behaviours at source—in the operating theatre, the GP’s surgery and throughout the whole service—to get that better safety culture.
As ever, my hon. Friend speaks wisely. The first step is to be open and transparent about where the problems are, and I hope today will be a step in that direction. In the end, however, if we are to change things we must create a learning culture in all our hospitals so that the word goes out from the top down that the management is interested in hearing from staff if they have concerns about safety, because it wants to learn from those concerns and put them right. One of the messages I have been trying to get across is that that does not cost money; it saves money. We spend £1.3 billion a year on litigation and £800 million on adverse events. If we are feeling, as everyone is, a tough climate financially, this is a positive thing to do for that reason as well.
The House will be aware that the Health Secretary has refused to comply with the Information Commissioner’s ruling to publish the risk register for NHS reorganisation. Will he at least say whether that risk register warned the Government specifically that such reorganisation would hit A and E services?
That risk register is in the public domain, but I defend the right of my officials to give confidential advice to Ministers as that is an important part of government. I want my officials to be open and transparent with me if they think I am about to do the wrong thing, and all Ministers need a protected area where they can get frank advice. The hon. Gentleman is one of my constituents, so he will be pleased to know that the Royal Surrey county hospital in Guilford is embracing the safety campaign with vigour and completely renewing the way its wards are organised to improve patient care and safety.
I commend the Secretary of State for these practical and sensible reforms on patient safety, and I look forward to discussing them with staff at West Suffolk hospital—the biggest district general hospital in my area. Does he agree that the sensible and deliverable transparency reforms will ensure that the conspiracy of silence that we saw tragically in Mid Staffs is not repeated on his watch?
I am absolutely determined to make that the case. The biggest example—a number of them have been raised today—is the issue of hospitals put in special measures. Over the last year, we have put more than 10% of NHS acute trusts into special measures. That was a very difficult decision and was not welcomed at the time. The result, I am pleased to say, is that we are seeing real and significant change in all those hospitals. I hope as many of them as possible will get out of special measures quickly, but we can achieve that change only if we are honest about the problem in the first place.
Bolton hospital is having to go abroad to recruit qualified nurses this summer because there are no British-trained nurses available. Will the Secretary of State now take responsibility for cutting nurse training places by 10,000 since the last election and accept that the lack of qualified nurses is just making the problem of safety worse?
What I will take responsibility for is agreeing to a public inquiry into what happened at Mid Staffs—something rejected by the Labour party—that has woken up the whole NHS to the need for safe staffing in all our wards. We are implementing the report and that will indeed be reflected in the nurse training numbers going forward.
Basildon and Thurrock hospital was the first to exit the special measures regime after a number of years of failure. It did so because the leadership embraced what happened, was willing to learn the lessons from what went wrong and went out of its way to fix them. Far from being a naming, shaming and blaming culture, is it not the truth that my right hon. Friend is strengthening the culture of accountability in the NHS, which is as it should be?
Yes, and I would like to thank my hon. Friend for her superb work in supporting Basildon and Thurrock hospital through a very difficult period. I think that the chief executive there, Clare Panniker, is an exemplary one. She wrote an article in The Guardian pointing out that it is incredibly painful for trusts when they go into special measures, that it causes a lot of pressure in the local media, but that it also means that change can be made much more quickly when an urgency to solve these problems, many of which have been around for years and years, is created. I commend the staff of that hospital not just for coming out of special measures but for being rated “good” by the chief inspector of hospitals—a fantastic achievement.
Never mind the fact that this Government will not publish the risk register for a £3 billion top-down reorganisation; the Secretary of State and his Ministers will not meet me. If he wants to talk about accountability, why will he and his Ministers not meet me to talk about a minor injury unit in Guisborough being closed, a minor injuries unit in Brotton hospital being closed, a GP centre in Park End being closed and a walk-in and GP centre in Skelton being closed? All those units are in my constituency and they are all being closed, yet the Secretary of State and his Ministers will not meet me, which would represent genuine accountability.
Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that the accountability he talks about is precisely demonstrated by his ability to ask me questions right now as he has just done. He needs to be accountable and come clean with the House by saying that he has actually met my Ministers on a number of occasions on precisely the issues that he raised.
Order. For the benefit of the public—it is important that they find our proceedings intelligible—I should say that these exchanges are taking place because an urgent question was submitted and because I granted it. That is the beginning and the end of the matter.
After the shocking events at Mid Staffs under the last Government, I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State on his crusade for accountability and transparency as the best disinfectant, as shown by his support for whistleblowers and for 4,000 additional nurses. Does he agree that the collection, monitoring and day-to-day use of data on health outcomes is absolutely key? I welcome his Minister’s support for measures in my ten-minute rule Bill, now adopted and sponsored by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy).
I am happy to do that, and I would particularly like to congratulate my hon. Friend on the insight he has brought with regard to the power of data. In one example of why this is so important, the latest figures showed 43 or 44 people dying in the NHS because of medication errors, but if the person giving the medication had been able to see the patient’s entire prescription history, those horrific tragedies might have been avoided. That is why proper sharing of data is so important.
I want to ask about the safety of the 22,000 patients who use Hammersmith hospital A and E every year. There is no increased capacity in the acute primary or community care services locally, which the Secretary of State set as a prerequisite for any A and E closures in west London. Will he ask Imperial Healthcare Trust to review plans to close the A and E at Hammersmith on 10 September? Will he answer that question, as my constituents in Shepherd’s Bush and White City deserve an answer to it, not the spin and the game playing that I always get from the Secretary of State?
I am afraid I will take no lessons in spin and game playing after what the hon. Gentleman wrote in local election leaflets in Hammersmith and Fulham, failing to tell his own constituents about the brand new hospitals, the opening of a seven-day GP surgery and the 800 out-of-hospital professionals. I think he behaved absolutely disgracefully.
I very much welcome the Francis review into whistleblowing, which does indeed focus on transparency, and I am bemused and depressed that we cannot get universal welcome for it across the House. In addressing the name, shame and blame argument, does my right hon. Friend recognise that many front-line staff will be relieved at what he has announced because it will force management priorities to be the same as their priorities, which are overwhelmingly about patient safety?
My hon. Friend speaks wisely, and I commend her for her work in championing whistleblowers. In her relatively brief time here, she has made a big difference on that issue. Personally, I do not like to use the term “naming and shaming” because I think identifying problems should always be the first step to sorting them out. What we are doing today by identifying trusts that do not have a proper open and honest reporting culture is also helping them to change that reporting culture while at the same time identifying trusts that have a good culture. It is all about changing the culture, so this is a positive move, and I think that NHS staff will really welcome it.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way to deal with concerns about patient safety, such as those raised last week about Scunthorpe general hospital, is to have a proper independent investigation that respects patient confidentiality and reports objectively, clearly and transparently so that appropriate action can be taken when all the facts are known?
There are definitely times when an independent investigation is needed, and a number of them are going on in the NHS at the moment. The first thing, however, is to talk to the trust and get it to deal with the particular issues being raised and to create a culture in which trusts are willing, enthusiastic and keen to do that. Today is an attempt to deal not only with what happens when things go wrong with whistleblowers, but with how to create the right culture in the first place.
I commend the Secretary of State for his desire to put patients at the centre of the NHS. Does he agree that patient safety in places such as North Cumbria can be ensured not just by quality medical care, but by good-quality leadership and management? Would he therefore agree that we need quality management throughout the NHS that is confident about being open and transparent?
I would agree with that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for talking to me on many occasions about the issues at North Cumbria hospital and for sharing his determination to turn things around— [Interruption.] I find it extraordinary that Labour Members are making all this noise. My hon. Friend will know that that hospital had to give £3.6 million in compensation to just one person because of an appalling mistake when Labour was in power. They should be welcoming these changes, not criticising them.
On 1 May I asked the care Minister why there had been a 60% drop in the number of people barred from working with vulnerable adults in the health and social care sector, and an even bigger drop of 75% in those barred from working with children. The Minister said that he was going to investigate, but I have heard nothing since. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that fewer unsuitable people are being barred from working in the social and health care sectors on his watch?
As the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) mentioned, local GPs raised concerns last week about a cluster of cases at Scunthorpe and Grimsby hospitals—not at Goole hospital, which was also revealed last week never to have breached its four-hour waiting target. There is still a lot more to be done, so does the Secretary of State share my concern at the evidence received by the Health Select Committee last week from the Care Quality Commission, which stated that all too often, members of staff who raise concerns are dealt with by the human resources department rather than in a proper way that allows their complaints to be properly aired?
That is a very good point, and I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming me to Goole hospital; I had a very good visit. That hospital is in special measures but it is making real progress. It was interesting to talk to staff at the front line. I do not know when the hospital will be ready to leave special measures, but the staff on the front line felt that things were changing, and they welcomed that. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that if someone raises a safety concern, it should not be viewed as an HR issue; it is a patient safety issue, and trusts need to treat it as such.
In his reply to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the Secretary of State referred to avoiding avoidable harm. Given that Combat Stress has reported the referral of some 358 additional troops for urgent treatment—a rise of some 57%—will he give us some idea of the discussions in which he has engaged with service charities to ensure that that harm can be avoided?
I welcome the action taken by my right hon. Friend to extend transparency for the purpose of safety in the NHS, but could it be extended to the social care sector, especially in the light of the January 2010 Care Quality Commission report on Orchid View care home in Copthorne, near my constituency? The report rated the home as good, but 19 patients subsequently died.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that very harrowing issue. I hope I can reassure him by saying that we are progressively extending the changes we introduced to hospital inspections to inspections of general practice and adult social care settings. The new inspection regime is designed to be much tougher when it comes to identifying problems. It is never possible to identify all abuse in an inspection, which is why what I have announced today is so important: it is about the creation of a culture that tries to prevent such problems from arising in the first place.
I welcome the statement and the work that the Secretary of State is doing. Mr Mufti, who was the medical director of Medway hospital under the last Government, raised serious concerns about the bullying of staff, which he feared was affecting the quality of care and patient safety. Will the new provisions address that problem?
That is exactly the intention. Following my conversation last week with Nigel Beverley, the chief executive of Medway, I think that the hospital is making good progress after going into special measures. However, it is important to recognise that while it is possible to change things externally, real culture change must come from inside. This is not a day on which we are announcing new targets or top-down initiatives. The Sign up to Safety campaign to be led by Sir David Dalton will be voluntary: hospitals must choose whether to sign up to it. I think that that will enable us to make more progress than we would make if we tried to do things in the old way.
I was saving my energy, Mr Speaker.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s changes, which have made improving patient care and raising standards such a central part of the NHS mission. It is important to shine a light on poor performance, which is why I also welcome today’s CQC report on Royal Berkshire hospital, which highlights a number of important challenges that confront my local hospital. Does he agree that only by being open and transparent about problems can we tackle them and fix them for the long term?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I have had many discussions with him as he has campaigned in the House for his local hospital. The creation of a culture of openness and transparency should have support in all parts of the House, but that will not happen if every time we are honest about a problem, we are told that we are somehow running down the NHS. I urge Labour Members to think carefully about the way in which they approach this issue.
I applaud the cultural change that my right hon. Friend is leading in the NHS and the social care sector. As he may know, three former members of staff at Granary care home, owned by Shaw Healthcare, were last week found guilty of appalling violence and abuse of frail elderly patients. The sentences handed down to those three individuals were utterly derisory, the longest being four months in prison. Will my right hon. Friend meet the Secretary of State for Justice to review sentencing in this crucial area?
I shall be happy to raise that issue with the Justice Secretary, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it. I think it reminds us that whatever changes we may make in the House, it will take time for them to filter through. I am afraid that, even now, some terrible things are happening. One of the things that worries me most is that abuse of this kind often involves people who have dementia and cannot speak up for themselves. That is why it is so important for us to raise the profile of dementia, and to improve the training of those who care for people with the condition.
May I take up what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy)? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will appreciate the concern felt by my constituents at a time when the local media are full of a dispute between the clinical commissioning group and the hospital trust about an ongoing investigation of patient safety. Can he assure patients that every support will be given to the CCG and the trust when the recommendations following the inquiry become known?
Yes, I can. My hon. Friend’s local trust is in special measures, and the decision on whether a trust should come out of special measures is no longer one for the Secretary of State; it is made independently by the chief inspector of hospitals. I hope that we have created incentives for system leaders to solve these problems, because if they do not, the chief inspector will simply not decide that the trust can be taken out of special measures.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) in praising the improvements that have taken place in Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which has come out of special measures, and which affects part of my constituency. Are not those improvements a very good example of the way in which we are summoning up the political courage to tackle such trusts, particularly when they have experienced high death rates in the past?
I hope that they are. I think that in the end we shall be judged on how successful we are in turning around hospitals in special measures. Last week I met Anne Eden, the chief executive of Buckinghamshire Healthcare. I think she has done an excellent job in extremely difficult circumstances, but I know she would agree that there is still much work to be done. Taking hospitals out of special measures is the first step, but ultimately we must reassure the public that when there are problems, we shall be on their side and try to sort those problems out.
I welcome today’s announcement, and I assure the Secretary of State that Salisbury district hospital, which is in Odstock in my constituency, will be keen to sign up to the campaign. However, will he acknowledge that it and several other hospitals have been alive to issues of patient safety for a long time, and have recently been involved in a new patient safety initiative launched by Wessex academic health science network? Is it not important for existing arrangements to be acknowledged, so that there is no duplication of effort?
That is absolutely true. A number of initiatives are taking place, and I welcome them. The involvement of universities can help us to understand some of these very difficult issues. This is uncharted territory for the NHS, because nowhere else in the world are we seeing the rigour with which we are going about our task. I think that we should be open about anyone who can contribute to the debate.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on transparency and accountability. He is right to draw attention to the positive steps that the Government have taken in regard to mental health services in the last four years, but given our aspiration to secure parity of esteem between mental and physical health in the NHS, and our need to drive up mental health care standards throughout the country, should we not extend the transparency and accountability measures that he has announced to those services?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s campaigning on mental health issues, which has done a huge amount to raise the profile of the subject. Let me reassure him that the information that we are publishing on the website today includes staffing data for all the mental health trusts. We completely recognise the parity issue, at least in what we are doing today.
In my previous job, before I entered the House, I conducted dozens of clinical negligence cases. Almost every defending trust was obstructive, defensive and reluctant to admit blame, even when patently culpable. I strongly welcome the changes that are being brought about. Does my right hon. Friend agree that greater transparency and whistleblowing will bring about the safety changes that we all want to see?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend, and he will know that one of the things we have introduced this year is the duty of candour, which makes it a legal requirement for trusts to be honest with patients and their families when harm or avoidable death has occurred. He is absolutely right that we have to tackle this, and he will also know that when trusts are open and transparent, relatives are less likely to sue, because they recognise the good will and spirit involved.
Will the Secretary of State join me in commending the initiative of Bedfordshire clinical commissioning group, under the excellent leadership of Dunstable GP Dr Paul Hassan, which has instituted unannounced checks on the wards of local hospitals by local GPs?
May I commend my right hon. Friend on the work he has done on patient safety, while gently suggesting that perhaps the long-term, or even medium-term, aim should be to eliminate avoidable harm, rather than just halve it? In my case, in Stafford, we have seen huge improvements in patient safety since the very difficult times a few years ago, but I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind the hospital’s current situation, which is fragile, and to ensure that it is not left to its own devices, but that all the support necessary to maintain patient services during this difficult transition is given.
No Member of this House has done more for their local hospital than my hon. Friend, and I commend him on what he has done. We certainly will not leave that hospital to its own devices; we are following very closely what is happening. I want to pay tribute to him, too, on the issue of safety, because when the Francis report came out, he was one of the earliest voices saying, “Yes, this is about compassionate care, but it is also about safety.” I do not at all rule out the aspiration of zero harm and zero avoidable deaths, but that is a point we will have to get to step by step, and I am very proud that we are taking the steps that we are today.
A few years ago, Kettering general hospital had some of the very worst hospital infection rates in the whole country; now it has some of the very best. Last year, it had some of the very worst rates for attendance at A and E within the four-hour target; now it has some of the very best. Does this not demonstrate that determined local hospital leadership, plus dedicated and committed nursing staff, can transform the patient experience in our hospitals?
It absolutely does, and I think that is very important. There are huge pressures on NHS hospitals. I have been to Kettering hospital at my hon. Friend’s invitation, and it is a very busy hospital. There is a lot of pressure in the system, but with the right leadership it is absolutely possible to deal with these challenges, and I know that my hon. Friend has had a huge impact in Kettering, supporting the hospital through a difficult period.