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NHS: Learning from Mistakes

Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2016

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to update the House on the steps that the Government are taking to build a safer, seven-day NHS. We are proud of the NHS and what it stands for and proud of the record numbers of doctors and nurses working for the NHS under this Government, but with that pride comes a simple ambition: our NHS should offer the safest, highest-quality care anywhere in the world. Today, we are taking some important steps to make that possible.

In December, following the problems at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, I updated the House about the improvements that we need to make in reporting and learning from mistakes. NHS professionals deliver excellent care to 650,000 patients every day, but we are determined to support them to improve still further the quality of that care, so this Government have introduced a tough and transparent new inspection regime for hospitals, a new legal duty of candour to patients and families who suffer harm, and a major initiative to prevent lives from being lost through sepsis. According to the Health Foundation, the proportion of people suffering from the major causes of preventable harm has dropped by a third in the last three years, so we are making progress, but we still make too many mistakes. Twice a week in the NHS we operate on the wrong part of someone’s body and twice a week we wrongly leave a foreign object in someone’s body. The pioneering work of Helen Hogan, Nick Black and Ara Darzi has estimated that 3.6% of hospital deaths have a 50% or more chance of being avoidable, equating to over 150 deaths every week.

Despite that, we should remember that our standards of safety still compare well with those in many other countries. However, I want England to lead the world in offering the highest possible standards of safety in healthcare. Therefore, today I am welcoming Health Ministers and healthcare safety experts from around the world to London for the first ever ministerial-level summit on patient safety. I am co-hosting the summit with the German Health Minister, Hermann Gröhe, who will host a follow-up summit in Berlin next year. Other guests will include Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Gary Kaplan, chief executive of the renowned Virginia Mason hospital in Seattle, Professor Don Berwick, and Sir Robert Francis QC.

We will discuss many things, but in the end all the experts agree that no change is permanent without culture change. That change needs to be about two things: openness and transparency about where problems exist; and a proper learning culture to put them right. With the new inspection regime for hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes, as well as a raft of new information now published on My NHS, we have made much progress on transparency, but as Sir Robert Francis’s “Freedom to speak up” report told us, it is still too hard for doctors, nurses and other front-line staff to raise concerns in a supportive environment.

Other industries, in particular the airline and nuclear industries, have learned the importance of developing a learning culture, not a blame culture, if safety is to be improved. Too often, the fear of litigation or professional consequences inhibits the openness and transparency we need if we are to learn from mistakes.

Following the commitment I made to Parliament at the time of the Morecambe Bay investigation, we will from 1 April set up our first ever independent healthcare safety investigation branch. Modelled on the air accidents investigation branch that has been so successful in reducing fatalities in the airline industry, it will undertake timely, no-blame investigations. As with the air accidents investigation branch, I can today announce that we will bring forward measures to give legal protection to those who speak honestly to investigators. The results of such investigations will be shared with patients and families, who will therefore get to the truth of what happened much more quickly. Unlike at present, however, those investigations will not normally be able to be used in litigation or disciplinary proceedings, for which the normal rules and processes will apply. The safe space that they will therefore create will reduce the defensive culture too often experienced by patients and families, meaning that the NHS can learn and disseminate lessons more quickly, so that we avoid repeating mistakes.

My intention is to use the reform to encourage much more openness in how the NHS responds to tragic mistakes: families will get the full truth faster; doctors will get support and protection to speak out; and the NHS as a whole will become much better at learning when things go wrong. What patients and families who suffer want more than anything else is a guarantee that no one else will have to re-live their agony. The new legal protection will help us to promise them, “Never again.” Fundamental to the change is getting a strong reporting culture in hospitals under which mistakes are acknowledged, not swept under the carpet.

Today, NHS Improvement has also published a “learning from mistakes” ranking of NHS trusts, drawing on data from the staff survey and safety incident reporting to show which trusts have the best reporting culture and which need to be better at supporting staff who want to raise concerns. It will be updated every year in a new Care Quality Commission state of hospital quality report, which will also contain trusts’ own annual estimates of their avoidable mortality rates and have a strong focus on learning and improvement. Furthermore, the General Medical Council and the Nursing & Midwifery Council guidance is now clear: where doctors, nurses or midwives admit what has gone wrong and apologise, the professional tribunal should give them credit for that, just as failing to do so is likely to incur a serious sanction.

The Government remain committed to further reform to allow professional regulators more flexibility to resolve cases without stressful tribunals. The culture change must also extend to trust disciplinary procedures, so NHS Improvement will ask for a commitment to openness and learning to be reflected in all trust disciplinary procedures and ask all trusts to publish a charter for openness and transparency, so that staff can have clear expectations of how they will be treated if they report clinical errors.

Finally, from April 2018, the Government will introduce the system of medical examiners that was recommended in the Francis report, which will make a profound change to our ability to learn from unexpected or avoidable deaths, with every death either investigated by a coroner or scrutinised by a second independent doctor. Grieving relatives will be at the heart of the process and will have the chance to flag any concerns about the quality of care and cause of death with an independent clinician, meaning that we get to the bottom of any systemic failings much more quickly. The NHS is one of the largest organisations in the world and learning from mistakes and becoming the world’s largest learning organisation is how we will offer the safest, highest-quality standards of care. I commend the statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The Opposition support any measures that will improve safety in our NHS and make it more open to learning from mistakes. However, we will also provide robust opposition and scrutiny when we think that the Secretary of State’s actions are having the reverse effect.

Let me start by setting out where we support the Government. On the independent medical examiners, the Secretary of State will know that that is a reform that the Opposition have long pushed for. The previous Labour Government legislated in 2009 for the introduction of medical examiners, following the inquiry into the crimes of Harold Shipman. The call to introduce medical examiners was then repeated in the Francis report and in the report of the Morecambe Bay investigation, chaired by Dr Bill Kirkup. Indeed, last year’s Kirkup report said:

“We cannot understand why this has not already been implemented in full”.

We welcome the implementation of the medical examiners system, but it is concerning that it appears to have been delayed until April 2018. Will the Secretary of State say why progress in that area is so slow? Will he reconsider the timetable for their introduction given that April 2018 is more than two years away? Will he say more about how the reform will be funded? Local government faces further cuts over the coming years and while I understand that local authorities will be reimbursed for set-up costs, they will have to collect fees to fund the service. How will that work in practice? Is the Secretary of State confident that local government, which is already having to do more for less, will be able to take on the role of administering this process?

We also support the changes to the GMC and NMC guidance that the Health Secretary is announcing today, which will recognise the importance of an apology, but it is unclear how that is different from the guidance that came into effect last August. Indeed, the GMC first announced plans to change its guidance in this way more than a year ago, so can he say how his announcement today differs from the plans that were already in place?

On the learning from mistakes league, how will the 32 trusts that have a poor reporting culture be supported to improve? We know from listening to the testimonies of Sara Ryan, the mother of Connor Sparrowhawk, that the learning culture in some trusts just is not good enough. I know, from speaking to the small number of my constituents who have experienced failures of care, that the fight to get mistakes recognised is only part of the battle. They also want to know that the failures they have experienced will never happen to anyone else, yet all too often they are faced with a system that seems as though it simply struggles to learn.

Does the Secretary of State accept that he needs to do much more to develop a positive learning culture in our NHS? How in practical terms will he support clinicians and managers to improve services? Go to any health trust and we will find a director of finance and non-executive directors with financial expertise, but rarely will we see the same attention being paid to quality. Does the Health Secretary not agree that every trust board needs someone whose focus is not short-term firefighting, but co-ordinating and bringing together staff to drive improvements in quality?

I will always support sensible steps to improve safety and transparency in the delivery of health services, but what I cannot do is stand here today and pretend that other actions taken by this Government will not have a detrimental effect on patient care. The Health Secretary’s kamikaze approach to the junior doctor contract means that no matter how the dispute ends, he will have lost the good will of staff, on which the NHS survives. How can he stand here and talk about patient safety when it is him and him alone who is to blame for the current industrial action, for the destruction of staff morale and for the potential exodus of junior doctors to the southern hemisphere? [Interruption.]

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I ask the Health Secretary: how can he stand here and say that he wants the NHS to deliver the highest-quality care in the world when the people he depends upon to deliver that care for patients have said, “Enough is enough”? How can he talk about patient safety when he knows that his £22 billion-worth of so-called “efficiency savings” in the next four years will lead to job cuts and will heap more pressure upon a service that is about to break?

I know the Health Secretary has been shy about visiting the NHS front line in the past few months, but if we speak to anyone who has any contact with the NHS, the message we will hear is clear: the financial crisis facing the NHS is putting patient care at risk. The independent King’s Fund recently said:

“Three years on from Robert Francis’s report into Mid Staffs, which emphasises that safe staffing was the key to maintaining quality of care, the financial meltdown in the NHS now means that the policy is being abandoned”.

That is simply not good enough. For those people who have experienced failures of care and for those staff working in environments so pressurised that they fear for the quality of care they are able to deliver, the Health Secretary needs to get his head out of the sand. I say this to him: measures to investigate and identify harm are all well and good but there needs to be action to prevent harm from happening in the first place—fund the NHS adequately, staff it properly and you might just give it a fighting chance.

The hon. Lady had the chance to be constructive. I do welcome her commitment to a safer NHS, but we need actions and not just words from the Labour party if its conversion to improving patient care is to be believed. She mentioned the junior doctors’ strike. Patients and their families will have noticed that, when it came to the big test for Labour—whether to back vulnerable patients, who need a seven-day NHS, or the British Medical Association, which opposes it—Labour has chosen the union. She brought up the topic, so let me just remind the House of what Nye Bevan, the founder of the NHS, said about the BMA:

“this small body of politically poisoned people have decided to…stir up as much emotion as they can in the profession…they have mustered their forces on the field by misrepresenting the nature of the call and when the facts are known their forces will disperse.”—[Official Report, 9 February 1948; Vol. 447, c. 36-39.]

Bevan would have wanted high standards of care for vulnerable people across the whole week and so should she.

The hon. Lady also challenged the Government on safety, so let us look at the facts. Under this Government: MRSA down 55%; clostridium difficile down 42%; record numbers of the public saying that their care is safe; the proportion suffering from the major causes of preventable harm down by a third during my period as Health Secretary; and 11 hospitals with unsafe care put into special measures and then taken out of special measures, with up to 450 lives saved according to that programme. Before she gets on her high horse, she should compare that with Labour’s record: avoidable deaths at Mid Staffs, Morecambe Bay, Basildon and many other hospitals; care so bad we had to put 27 hospitals into special measures; the Department of Health under Labour a “denial machine”, according to Professor Sir Brian Jarman; and contracts that reduced weekend cover in our hospitals passed by the last Government. They made a seven-day NHS harder—we are trying to put that right. The hon. Lady mentioned money, but she stood on a platform to put £5.5 billion less into the NHS every year than this Government. On the back of a strong economy, we are putting more resources into the NHS. A strong NHS needs a strong economy, and Labour had better remember that.

Let me look at some of the other points the hon. Lady raised. What I said in my statement about the GMC and NMC guidance was that, having said it would change, that guidance has changed and it is now clear that people are going to be given credit in tribunals for being open and honest about things that have gone wrong. She challenged me about the timing for the introduction of medical examiners, so let me remind her of the facts: the Shipman inquiry third report recommended medical examiners in 2003, Labour failed to implement that over seven years, and in six years we are implementing it, which is what I announced today. I am confident that there will not be additional burdens on local government.

The hon. Lady talked about the issue of supporting trusts that do not have the right reporting culture, and that is exactly what we are doing today, because we have published the names of not only the trusts that do not have a good reporting culture, but the names of those that do have a good reporting culture—trusts such as Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust and many others. The trusts that are struggling with this can learn from them.

The hon. Lady says that I need to do more, but, with respect, let me say that the measures we have taken on openness, transparency and putting quality at the heart of what the NHS does and needs to stand for go a lot further than anything we saw under the last Labour Government. I say to her that it says rather a lot that, on a day when this Government have organised a summit, with experts from all over the world, on how to make our hospitals safer, the Labour party is lining up with unions against safer seven-day services. I urge her to think again and to choose the more difficult path of backing reform that will help to make our NHS the safest healthcare system in the world.

What a shame that the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) did not take the opportunity today to condemn the strikes. Supporting unions and not patients will not impress anyone.

May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s excellent statement, join him in paying tribute to the people who work in our NHS, and particularly welcome the setting up of the healthcare safety investigation branch and the system of medical examiners, which will contribute to better results and better outcomes in the health service?

The Secretary of State has taken a personal interest in sepsis, particularly by responding to the UK Sepsis Trust and Dr Ron Daniels, the Mead family, who tragically lost their son, William, and other relatives of patients who have died of sepsis. He knows that the ombudsman report of September 2013 contained many recommendations, including a request for a public awareness campaign, which could save lives. Will the Secretary of State tell us what progress he has made with that, because the relatives who are campaigning seem to have been waiting a long time for this public awareness campaign that they believe will help greatly?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her campaigning work on sepsis. Indeed, I have met the Mead family with her. She does a fantastic job with the all-party parliamentary group on sepsis. We announced a plan in January last year as this is a major area where we need to increase knowledge both inside the NHS and among the general public. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago at a meeting organised by the all-party group, we are now looking at putting in place a public information campaign. We need to establish whether that should be about just sepsis, or whether it should be a more general public information campaign to help parents to understand when they need to worry about a fever, which is very common among small children and might be due to reasons other than sepsis, with meningitis being an obvious one. We are doing that detailed work now and we want to get this absolutely right, but I commend her persistence in ensuring that we deliver our commitments in this area.

I welcome the statement from the Secretary of State, particularly with regard to the establishment of medical examiners, which we have had in Scotland since last year. I, too, ask why there is a delay of another two years before that comes on stream. As a doctor, the thing that always seemed obvious to me was what might have made a difference with Shipman. Of all the things that have been enacted, someone reviewing deaths might have made that difference. I do not underestimate the importance of audit, and learning from routine audit, rather than depending on just whistleblowing.

In Scotland, we had an audit of surgical mortality in the 1990s. The first thing that that showed was the people dying who had not had a sufficiently senior surgeon involved in their case. That was discussed with the profession, and practice changed. Future years identified a situation with a consultant surgeon at the front line and a junior anaesthetist, but that, too, changed. The audit identified the lack of high-dependency nursing units for the sickest patients. I suggest that working with such an audit and the profession, as we have done for coming up to 20 years, would have allowed the evolution of a stronger, safer seven-day emergency service. I again call on the Secretary of State to commit to looking at a surgical approach, the things that are missing—access to scans and radiology—and perhaps more senior review and senior involvement. This is not about junior doctors and it is not blanket.

We also need to look at the ratio of staff. Francis and other research have shown the importance of nursing staff. Staff who do not have a minute to stop and think will make mistakes, and will not have time to report them. We need to make this easy. There must be a culture in which people have the time to minimise mistakes.

I have a final plea. The Secretary of State is offering more support to whistleblowers, but a review and reconciliation for those who have been badly treated in the past might give people more confidence that, if they step up and report something significant, they will not be hung out to dry, as has been the case previously.

I contrast the tone of the hon. Lady’s response with that of the shadow Health Secretary. Although I by no means agree with everything she said, she does make some important points.

It is not the case that we have delayed the medical examiners scheme. In the previous Parliament, we had pilots so that we could understand exactly how the examiners would work. That is relevant to the hon. Lady’s other point about audit, with which I completely agree. One thing that medical examiners will be able to do is to look for unexpected or unexplained patterns in deaths. Obviously, the vast majority of deaths are routine, predictable and expected, but those examiners will be able, looking at audit tools, to identify where there are things to worry about, which is why this is an important next step.

With respect to whistleblowers, I will reflect on what the hon. Lady says. We are trying to eliminate the need for things ever to get to the point where someone has to become a whistleblower. We want to ensure that people are supported to speak out about mistakes they have seen or made and concerns that they have, and that they are confident that they will be listened to. We are publishing a table today about the quality of the reporting culture. Much of the raw data that allow us to rank trusts on the quality of reporting data come from the NHS staff survey, which asks staff how valued they think they are, and how safe and easy it is to raise concerns. That is why this is a big step forward.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for taking forward so many of the recommendations that were made a year ago in the Public Administration Committee’s report on investigating clinical incidents in the NHS. I particularly thank him for implementing the creation of a safe space, which has been a controversial and difficult subject because some people think that this is about hiding stuff, when in fact it is about getting people to speak much more openly and freely. Will he say something about how that will be implemented without primary legislation?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He and I have talked many times and thought very hard about how we can learn lessons from the air industry. He is one of the people who came to me first to say that if we want to set up an equivalent to the air accidents investigation branch, we need to give people in the healthcare world the same legal protections that others have when they are speaking to that branch, and that is at heart of the statement that I have made to the House today.

The point about safe space is very, very important. This is not about people getting off scot free if they make a terrible mistake. There is no extra protection here for anyone who breaks the law, commits gross negligence or does something utterly irresponsible. Patients still have those protections. What they gain is the comfort that we will get to the truth and learn from mistakes much more quickly. Every single patient and bereaved family says that the most important thing is not money, but making sure that the system learns from what went wrong. We will ensure that we construct the safe space concept, and I do not rule out extending that beyond the investigations of the healthcare safety investigation branch.

In welcoming the statement, may I say that, in my experience on the General Medical Council and on the Health Committee, the biggest cloud that hangs over the culture of non-reporting in the national health service is litigation? Last year it cost the British taxpayer £1.1 billion, £395 million of which went on legal costs alone. Should we not be looking at a no-fault liability scheme inside the national health service so that we can really encourage cultural change?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the fear of litigation has a very pernicious effect, which we see across the NHS. Litigation is a huge drag on costs and we are reforming how it works. We have looked at what happens in other countries. In Sweden, for example, the creation of a no-blame culture has had the dramatic impact of reducing maternity and neo-natal injury. I hope that today’s statement is a step towards that, but we will consider other reforms to the litigation process as well.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), and I had a useful debate this morning in Westminster Hall about clinical negligence cases, and what the Secretary of State has said this afternoon clearly touches on that. I might be being obtuse, but the statement seems to relate to the internal investigation of the poor or mistaken conduct of doctors by the disciplinary system, and not to the resistance to, or the conduct of, clinical negligence cases. I hope I am wrong about that, because we do not want, despite the best of intentions of the Secretary of State, as identified in the statement, to make the settlement of just clinical negligence cases more difficult, more expensive and more sclerotic. I read in the papers this morning that there would be a need for a court to give consent to the use of particular information. It might well be that this morning’s trails were inaccurate and do not reflect what the Secretary of State intends, but I wonder whether he could disentangle internal and external reactions to poor conduct.

I shall do my best for my right hon. and learned—and eminent—Friend. We do not want to affect the legal rights of anyone who wishes to litigate against the NHS because they feel they have been treated badly. Those rights must remain, and we will protect them, but we want to make it easier to get to the truth of what happened so that we can learn from mistakes. The information uncovered by a healthcare safety investigation branch investigation could not be used in litigation proceedings without a court order. However, my belief is that having those investigations carried out by the branch is quite likely to speed up court processes, because I think it will establish on all sides, in greater likelihood, agreement about what actually happened in any particular situation. I hope that that will be beneficial, but if anyone wants to use the evidence in litigation, they will have to re-gather it, because we are concerned that, if doctors are worried that anything that they say could be used in litigation, they may be hesitant about speaking openly, and that represents the defensive culture that we are trying to change.

I welcome the measures set out in the statement. The Secretary of State will not be surprised to hear that I want to focus on safety in mental health. The statement seems to be quite focused on acute hospitals. At the summit taking place today, will there be a specialist focus on safety in mental health? The Secretary of State will remember that the Government announced last February an ambition to achieve zero suicide, but he will be aware that there has been a significant increase in serious incidents and in the reporting of unexpected deaths and suicides. I do not know where that project has got to, but would he be prepared to meet me to discuss how we can develop the zero-suicide ambition, which has achieved such a reduction in deaths in the city of Detroit in the United States? The same can happen here if we have the same focus and ambition.

Order. Before the Secretary of State answers that important question, I remind the House that we have a lot of business to get through today. Shorter questions and correspondingly shorter answers would be welcomed by those who are waiting to take part in other debates.

As ever, I commend the right hon Gentleman’s interest in mental health. May I reassure him that this is very much about what happens in mental health and also the area of learning disabilities? In fact, some of the thoughts were prompted by what happened at Southern Health. It is absolutely vital that we investigate unexpected deaths in mental health as much as we do in physical health. The measures we take will go across those areas, and I am more than happy to meet him to discuss the very laudable aim of zero suicides.

May I applaud the Secretary of State for this culture of safety and learning? Will he consider increasing the use of exit interviews in the NHS? I have worked in the NHS, aid organisations and charities, and the NHS is the only one where I have not had an exit interview. May I suggest that decreasing the use of agency and locum staff, as we hope to do, provides an opportunity to learn from good staff about sharing good practice and avoiding bad practice? I absolutely applaud the world summit on patient safety, and I very much hope the Secretary of State has invited St John of Jerusalem eye hospital, from East Jerusalem. If that was somehow forgotten, please will he ensure that it is invited to the Berlin summit next year?

I feel prompted by my hon. Friend’s question to investigate what I am sure is excellent practice at St John of Jerusalem eye hospital. If I may, I will take away her very good point about exit interviews. We also heard a good point about agency staff. Part of the thing that inhibits a learning culture is if a large percentage of staff are in an organisation only on a provisional or temporary basis, rather than being part of regular teams and therefore not being able to transmit lessons learned. That is why we have to deal with the virus of an over-reliance on agency staff in some parts of the NHS.

May I gently ask that the Secretary of State, if he is going to list Morecambe Bay in a litany of things to bash the previous Government over the head with, to do so while also acknowledging that the situation continued for some time under his Government and is still taking some time to turn around?

I wholeheartedly welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on patient safety and his overall approach, and I pay tribute again to the Morecambe Bay campaigners, who have done so much to trigger this improvement. However, does he share my concerns about trusts such as Morecambe Bay being forced, for a number of reasons, including for safety, to use a large number of agency staff, and about the difficulty in changing culture when that staffing situation persists?

Let me commend the staff at Morecambe Bay, who have been through a very difficult patch. The trust has now exited special measures, which is a very exciting step for the trust, and there has been a huge amount of work to make that possible. It feels to me that they really have turned a corner at Morecambe Bay, and we should support the staff, who have done a great job in that respect.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about agency staff. In particular, it is challenging to get permanent recruitment to more geographically isolated places—we find that that is a problem not just at Morecambe Bay, but across the country. However, sometimes, it can be false comfort to get in large numbers of agency staff, as not only are they extremely expensive, but they cannot offer the continuity of care that is at the heart of a safer culture, so we have to find better ways to support places such as Morecambe Bay further to improve safety.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a range of initiatives, including the independent healthcare safety investigation branch, but I remind him that some of the problems that we face are staring him in the face, not least the difficulties in Leicestershire with the ambulance service. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), for seeing the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and me to discuss the problems that occur when 15 out of 25 ambulances in the county are queuing to discharge patients. The Under-Secretary talked about bringing in troubleshooters to resolve problems. Will the Secretary of State enlighten the House on what he proposes to do about these very evident problems? They require little investigation; they require action.

We do have a system-wide problem in Leicestershire and we are looking into it urgently. I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue. He is absolutely right that when we talk about safety and being open about mistakes, that has to apply to the ambulance service as much as to every other part of the NHS.

May I also welcome the Secretary of State’s statement to the House? In particular, I welcome the commitment to building a safer, seven-day NHS. In Northern Ireland, we have just announced 1,200 new nurses, 300 new professionals, extra money for autism and mental health care and, just this week, extra money to address waiting lists to build a safer, seven-day NHS—that is what we want.

The Secretary of State referred to learning from mistakes, the need for an extension of trusts’ disciplinary procedures, openness to learning and a charter for openness and transparency. What discussions has he had with the Northern Ireland Assembly Minister, Simon Hamilton, about ensuring that that system can be replicated in Northern Ireland and by regional Assemblies and Administrations across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

My colleague, the hospitals Minister, will have those discussions with the Northern Ireland Health Minister. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that if we are going to have a learning culture, it needs to be across the UK, not just in England. That is why I welcome the discussions we have with the Scottish NHS and the Welsh NHS. There are things that we can learn from each other, and we should be very open-minded in doing so.

We must all strive to improve safety and quality in the NHS, but the Health Foundation report that the Secretary of State referred to stated that 40% of patients said there were too few nurses to care for them—this is three years after the Francis report. The Government say that the NHS must learn more, but what are they doing to learn from the inquiries that have been held?

Well, quite a lot. For example, we have increased the number of nurses by more than 10,000 since the Francis report was published, to ensure that we do not have a problem with safety on our wards. We recognise that it is incredibly important not to have short-staffed wards, and we are making more reforms in this Parliament to ensure that we recruit even more nurses. It would be good to have some support from Labour on that.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, although I hope that it draws on experience from other healthcare economies, as well as on the aerospace sector. When things go wrong, it is right that the NHS is frank about it and, where necessary, compensates people for what may be long-term management issues. Currently, negligence settlements are based on provision in the private sector and do not necessarily anticipate that people will be treated and managed in the NHS, which means that the service effectively pays twice for mistakes. As the Secretary of State seeks to close the Simon Stevens spending gap, perhaps he will reflect on that. I would be grateful if he could say to what extent he thinks that excessive negligence claims are influenced by the rather perverse way in which they are currently calculated.

Someone looking at our current system independently might say that some things are difficult to understand, including the point raised by my hon. Friend and the fact that we tend to give bigger awards to wealthier families because we sometimes take into account family incomes when we make them. We are considering that area, but we are cautious about reducing the legal rights of patients to secure a fair settlement when something has gone wrong. In the end, this is about doing the right thing for patients, and the most effective way of reducing large litigation bills—I know my hon. Friend will agree with this—is to stop harm happening in the first place, and that is what today is about.

If anybody should be learning from mistakes in the health service, it is the Secretary of State for Health. I have been down to the picket line today, as I have on every occasion, and I can tell him that it is hardening. There are more people on that picket line down at St Thomas’ today than I have seen in all the months since the strike began. I am a bit of an expert on picket lines; I know what it is like. Quite frankly, the biggest mistake that the Secretary of State has made is to think that he can get away with imposing a seven-day week on hospital doctors and everybody else who works in the health service, because he wants to avoid proper premium payments. When I worked in the coal mines, miners got double pay on Sundays, and they got time and a half all day Saturday. It is time he recognised that not just hospital doctors but nurses, radiologists and all the others who will have to work a seven-day week should be paid the proper money. Otherwise, pack the job in, and then he’ll be doing a service to the whole national health service.

Under our proposals, doctors will receive higher premium rates than lower paid nurses, paramedics and healthcare assistants. I thought the hon. Gentleman campaigned for the lower paid! The day that I stop this job will be the day that I stop doing the right thing for patients. He has constituents who need a seven-day NHS, as do I, and this Government will be there for them and will do the right thing.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his statement this afternoon, and welcome the culture change that he is introducing to the NHS. My experience of working in the NHS under a number of Governments over the past 20 years was that when mistakes happened, a scapegoat was identified and it was thought that the problem had been dealt with. That is why people were reluctant to report problems, but often it is not one individual but a system of failure. We need to learn from that, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments. Relatives and patients have said to me that they do not want just to identify the problem; they want to ensure that it never happens again, which is exactly what my right hon. Friend said. I chaired a primary care seminar this morning with GPs, doctors, nurses and pharmacists—

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. People are fed up with the NHS being talked down by Labour Members, and there was a plea to showcase the good work that is taking place in our NHS today.

It is so good to have someone with nursing experience in the House, and I hope that my hon. Friend will make an important contribution for many years to come. She knows what it is like on the front line, and why it is important to get this culture change. She also knows how important it is not to run down the NHS, which is doing extremely well.

Last week I received an email that was frankly heartbreaking. My constituent’s 84-year-old father, a proud and dignified man, was admitted to hospital with symptoms of a stroke, and he had to wait 14 hours for a bed. She went to visit him later that day and found him in bed wearing clothes on only his top half. He needed the toilet, and she was given a bottle to help him urinate.

That was no dignified way to treat that man. Will the Secretary of State agree to an urgent investigation into safe staffing levels at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, because the nursing staff told my constituent that they did not have time to fulfil her father’s basic nursing needs?

I am more than happy to look into that case, which is exactly the kind of thing that we are trying to stop with the measures we are bringing forward today.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on once again ensuring that patient healthcare and outcomes are at the forefront of his thinking, and that of professional health service workers who do such a brave job and can sometimes be caught in the crossfire. Does he agree that comments from people on the front line supporting the doctors strike—such as Mr Usman Ahmed, who started a post on Facebook by saying:

“I’ve always hated the Conservatives—a complete and utter bunch of…”;

I shall leave it there as I would not like to offend you, Madam Deputy Speaker—show that they do not care about healthcare and are more interested in their own political gain?

This, I am afraid, is the problem with some elements in the BMA, who are putting politics ahead of patients. As we have heard today, that is the problem in the Labour party as well.

Action on Sir Robert Francis’s “Freedom to Speak up” review is very welcome. There are so many cases I could cite, but when a senior junior doctor reported unsafe levels of care in an intensive therapy unit, he was subject to unacceptable behaviour such as bullying and blacklisting, and now can only work as a locum. When he wrote to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State refused to engage, listen and learn from his experience. Learning cultures have to start at the top with the Secretary of State. Will he set out how he will address retrospective cases of whistleblowing when people have been subject to discrimination?

I hope that the hon. Lady is not quoting selectively from my reply to the person concerned, because when people raise issues of patient safety with me, I usually refer them to the CQC, which is able to give a proper reply. I would be very surprised if I had not done that in this case. Retrospective cases are particularly difficult, and much as we want to help, it is difficult constitutionally to unpick decisions made by courts. We are trying to separate employment grievances from safety grievances and make that the way that we solve these difficult situations.

Like many MPs, I have come across cases where this approach would help enormously, and I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The same CQC report that praised staff and clinicians at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust for their good and outstanding care, also raised concerns about the management and safety at the hospitals. That was partly a result of too many interim managers, and a lack of ability to address and learn from mistakes made. I urge the Secretary of State to do everything in his power to work with the relevant organisations to put long-term permanent management in place at that trust, so that we take things forward and make our patients safer.

My hon. Friend speaks very wisely. Let me say that one thing that has been a mistake of successive Governments is a short-termist approach to NHS managers. We ourselves have looked for a scapegoat when something has gone wrong—an A&E target missed or whatever—and not backed people making long-term transformations. That is something we need to think hard about.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for all the work he has done on this. I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned to bring patient safety to the fore, many from tragic experiences that they have had. What work is being done to ensure that medical schools and nursing schools have patient safety right there on the curriculum?

We have looked at the curriculum very carefully. In particular, we want to make sure that people understand their responsibilities to speak out if they see mistakes or things going wrong, and to help people to understand that this may not be the prevailing culture in the hospital they go to. We are looking to a new generation of doctors and nurses to help us in changing the culture for the better.

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Having met the parents, he will be aware of the tragic death of three-year-old Jonnie Meek at Stafford hospital. They have been looking for answers to their questions for some time. Will he confirm that the new healthcare safety investigation branch he has announced today will give families like Jonnie’s the opportunity to find the answers they have been looking for much more quickly?

I thank my hon. Friend for her support for Jonnie’s parents. This is a very sad case. The independent investigator in the case talked about the closed culture he encountered at two different trusts. Indeed, that is a very good example of the change in culture we need. I have worked with them. I hope we can secure a second inquest into Jonnie’s death, so we can get to the truth. I am afraid it will be too late, but we want to get there eventually.

As the Secretary of State is aware, my local clinical commissioning group starts a 14-week consultation next Wednesday on proposals to downgrade A&E at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. Does he agree that patient safety must be the priority in those decisions, not the ruinous PFI deal signed by Halifax hospital in 1998, which is the backdrop to these appalling plans?

No one fights harder for his constituents on healthcare matters than my hon. Friend, and I commend him for that. The process he talks about will be led by clinicians. He is absolutely right that patient safety must be of paramount importance.

My right hon. Friend is aware that we have one of the worst stillbirth rates in the developed world. Every stillbirth is a tragedy, and with more than 3,600 a year we must do all we can to avoid them, especially when half are preventable. I am co-chair of the new all-party group on baby loss. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is only by looking at every single stillbirth and learning the lessons from them that we can get that number down by 20% by the end of this Parliament and by half by 2030?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I thank him for his work in this area. Maternity—stillbirths, neonatal deaths, neonatal injuries and maternal deaths—is the area where I hope we make the most rapid early progress in developing this new learning culture. There is so much to be gained. We can be the best in the world, but the truth is that we are a long way down international league tables in this area. None of us want that for the NHS. There is a real commitment to turn that around and I thank him for his support.

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, even if my knees are not.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on providing a protected space for doctors, so they will be able to be honest and upfront when things go wrong, and on striking the right balance so that relatives and people who suffer wrongs in the NHS get to the bottom of what went wrong, why it went wrong and why it will not happen again.

I thank my hon. Friend. That is the heart of what we want to do. He of course has been very closely involved in the improvements we are trying to make at his local trust. If his knees are in pain, I can recommend a very good GP surgery in his constituency, one he very kindly showed me during the election campaign.