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House of Commons Hansard
13 December 2016
Volume 618

  • With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement. On 12 April, I asked the Care Quality Commission to conduct an investigation into lessons that needed to be learned following the tragic death of Connor Sparrowhawk in 2013 at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. I pay tribute to his family, and particularly to his mother, Sara Ryan, for persistently and determinedly campaigning for a proper investigation into what happened. The lesson of Mid Staffs, Morecambe Bay and indeed other injustices such as Hillsborough is that when families speak out, we must listen. In this case, thanks to Dr Ryan’s efforts, many improvements will be made to the care of people with learning disabilities and many lives will be saved.

    I asked the CQC to look at what happened at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and to assess more broadly what lessons there are for the NHS as a whole. Its findings make sobering reading. Among other findings, the report says that families and carers often have a poor experience of mortality investigations; that they are sometimes not treated with kindness, respect and sensitivity; that they can feel that their involvement is tokenistic; and that they often question the independence of the reports.

    The report also says that the NHS does not prioritise learning from deaths and misses countless opportunities to learn and improve as a result, and that there is no single framework that sets out how local NHS organisations should identify, analyse and learn from deaths of patients in their care or those who have recently been in their care. As a result, there is inconsistency. Some NHS trusts get elements of mortality reporting right, but not one gets all the elements right. In particular, the leaders of NHS organisations and their doctors, nurses and other staff simply do not have access to the full picture of how many patients die in their care, which deaths were preventable, and what needs to be learned.

    I thank Professor Sir Mike Richards and his CQC colleagues for an extremely thoughtful and thorough report. I am accepting all their recommendations. From 31 March next year, the boards of all NHS trusts and foundation trusts will be required to collect a range of specified information on potentially avoidable deaths and serious incidents, and to consider what lessons need to be learned, on a regular basis. This will include estimates of how many deaths could have been prevented in their own organisation and an assessment of why this might vary positively or negatively from the national average, based on methodology adapted by the Royal College of Physicians from work done by Professor Nick Black and Dr Helen Hogan.

    We will require trusts to publish that information quarterly, in accordance with regulations that I will lay before the House, so that patients and the public can see whether and where progress is being made. Alongside those data, trusts will publish evidence of learning and action that is happening as a consequence of that information. They will feed the information back to NHS Improvement at a national level so that the whole NHS can learn more rapidly from individual incidents.

    All trusts will be asked to identify a board-level leader as patient safety director to take responsibility for this agenda and ensure that it is prioritised and resourced within their organisation. This person is likely to be the medical director. They will be asked to appoint a non-executive director to take oversight of progress.

    We will ensure that investigations of any deaths that may be the result of problems in care are more thorough and that they genuinely involve families and carers. More broadly, instead of the patchwork approach that we currently have, all trusts will be asked to follow a standardised national framework for identifying potentially avoidable deaths, reviewing the care provided and learning from mistakes.

    I have asked the NHS National Quality Board, which includes senior clinicians from all national NHS organisations, to draw up guidance on reviewing and learning from the care provided to people who die, in consultation with Keith Conradi, the new chief investigator of healthcare safety. These guidelines will be published before the end of March next year, for implementation by all trusts in the year starting next April. We will also be working with the National Quality Board to ensure that much more support is offered to bereaved families. As the report highlights issues around support to families, Health Education England will be asked to review the training for all doctors and nurses with respect to engaging with patients and families after a tragedy and, equally importantly, maintaining their own mental health and resilience in extremely challenging situations.

    As the report identified particular concerns about the treatment of people with learning disabilities, we will take two further actions. In acute trusts we will ask for particular priority to be given to identifying patients with a mental health problem or a learning disability to make sure that their care responds to their particular needs, and that particular trouble is taken over any mortality investigations to ensure that wrong assumptions are not made about the inevitability of death. We will also ensure that the NHS reviews and learns from all deaths of people with learning disabilities, in all settings. The learning disabilities mortality review—LeDeR—programme will provide support to families and local NHS areas to enable reporting and an independent, standardised review of all learning disability deaths of people between the ages of four and 74.

    We will ensure that there is coverage in all regions by the end of next year and full national roll-out by 2019. As the programme develops, all learnings will be transferred to the national avoidable mortality programme. I have today asked the LeDeR programme to provide annual reports to the Department of Health on its findings and how best to take forward the learnings across the NHS. From next year we will become the first country in the world to publish data on avoidable deaths at a hospital-by-hospital level.

    I want to address the issue of how we ensure that data published about avoidable deaths are accurate, fair and meaningful, and that the process of publication rewards openness and honesty. Of course we will be working closely with the CQC, NHS Improvement and senior NHS doctors and nurses to get this right, but I want to make it clear to the House that I will not be setting any target for reducing reported avoidable deaths, and nor do I believe it will be valid to compare numbers between hospitals because the data depend on clinical views that may change or vary. I expect—this might surprise some in the House—to see an increase in the number of reported avoidable deaths. This is more likely to be because hospitals get better at spotting and reporting them than because care is deteriorating.

    We should also remember that when there is a tragedy in the NHS, there is always a second victim—namely, the doctor or nurse involved, who invariably suffers huge anguish. So let us today also give credit to all NHS front-line staff for the changes that are already taking place to improve patient safety. For example, the number of people experiencing the four main hospital harms is down by a third since November 2012; MRSA and clostridium difficile rates have halved since 2010; and we have 10,000 more hospital nurses in our wards since the Francis report, and they are now at record numbers.

    There is a new healthcare safety investigations branch to perform speedy, no-blame inquiries into avoidable harm and death, modelled on the successful system that has operated in the airline industry for many years. There is also a consultation concluding this week on legislation to create a safe space for NHS staff to talk openly about how to improve the safety of care for patients, without having to worry about litigation or professional consequences.

    The culture of the NHS is changing following a number of tragedies, but this report shows that there is much progress to be made in the collection of information about unexpected deaths, analysis of what was preventable and learning from the results. Only by implementing the report’s recommendations in full will we honour the memory of Connor Sparrowhawk, and I commend the statement to the House.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, and I thank the CQC for its report.

    Any death is a tragedy for families, but when that death could have been prevented, or was the fault of a system that is meant to care for our loved ones, the trauma is all the more difficult to cope with. The circumstances of Connor Sparrowhawk’s death were shocking, and I, like the Secretary of State, pay tribute to his family, who have fought so hard for justice and to ensure other families do not have to go through what they went through. Connor Sparrowhawk’s step-father, Richard, told Radio 5 live:

    “When a loved one dies in care, knowing how and why they died is the very least a family should be able to expect”.

    We agree.

    The findings of the CQC are a wake-up call: relatives shut out of investigations; reasonable questions going unanswered; and grieving families made to feel like a “pain in the neck” or feeling they would be better dealt with at a “supermarket checkout”. This is totally unacceptable—it is shameful and it has to change. We therefore strongly welcome the recommendation of a national framework and the specific measures the Secretary of State has outlined today. I assure him we will work with him and the Care Quality Commission to support the establishment of such a framework in a timely fashion.

    Families and patients should not be forgotten in this process. Will the Secretary of State pledge that families and carers will be equal partners in developing the Government’s plans for implementing the CQC’s recommendations? Does he agree that those who work in the NHS show extraordinary compassion, good will and professionalism? Does he accept that when something, sadly and tragically, goes wrong, it can often be the result of a number of interplaying systemic failures and that therefore a national framework will provide welcome standards and guidance across the service?

    Does the Secretary of State recall that the National Patient Safety Agency was responsible for monitoring patient safety incidents in the NHS, including medication and prescribing errors, before it was scrapped under the Health and Social Care Act 2012? Will he perhaps acknowledge in retrospect that scrapping that agency was a mistake?

    For such a national framework and the Secretary of State’s proposed measures to succeed, investment will be necessary. Will hospitals and trusts receive extra funding to carry out the additional requirements that the CQC has recommended? More generally, hospitals across England are suffering chronic staff shortages, which is leaving doctors and nurses overstretched and struggling to do basic tasks. We all recall that Sir Robert Francis called for safe nurse staffing levels to be published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, but this guidance has been blocked. Will the Secretary of State now consider committing to NICE publishing safe nurse staffing levels, as recommended by the Francis report?

    The Secretary of State is aware of the wider pressures on the service. Will he acknowledge that cuts to social care and the failure to provide it with extra investment in the autumn statement two weeks ago are leaving hospitals dangerously overstretched, with patients at risk of harm?

    The Secretary of State will also be aware of the pressures on mental health provision. Over the weekend, we saw reports that bed shortages in England are now such that seriously ill patients with eating disorders are having to travel hundreds of miles for treatment. What does he make of this practice, and does he consider it safe and sustainable?

    May I ask the Secretary of State about the heart-breaking case of the death of baby Elizabeth Dixon? I know that he has spoken of this in the past. He rightly ordered an investigation, but I understand from the family that 16 months down the line the investigation has not started. Will he provide the House with an update?

    The CQC has called for the issues addressed in its report to be a national priority, and for all those involved in delivering safe care to review the findings and publish a full report. We absolutely agree. Action is needed. We welcome the recommendations and stand ready to work with the Government to ensure that these issues are no longer ignored.

  • I thank the shadow Health Secretary for the constructive nature of his comments. He is absolutely right in that, because this issue can unite people in all parts of the House. In fairness, these tragedies happen when those on either side of the House are responsible for the NHS, and we all have a responsibility to work to do better than we are doing at the moment.

    I particularly agree with the hon. Gentleman that front-line doctors and nurses work incredibly hard, and we need to get away from a blame culture when these tragedies happen. That blame culture is the root cause of why we are not learning as we should from the problems that arise, because people are worried about what will happen to them personally if they speak out. We have seen this with a number of tragedies. Through the national framework, we are trying to move away from a blame culture. Of course people have to be held accountable. If there is gross negligence and people do totally irresponsible things, then there must be no hiding place and proper accountability: that is what families rightly insist on. For the vast majority of the time, however, people are just trying to do their jobs as best they can. As he rightly says, it is often a systemic problem that can be solved with systemic changes. We are now trying to implement the culture of investigation that has worked so successfully in the airline industry and other industries.

    I absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that families and carers will be equal partners as we develop the new national guidance. This area was one of the most shocking things about the CQC report. I am sure that it was a great surprise to many people in the NHS how excluded many families felt. We clearly have to do better in that respect.

    The hon. Gentleman talked about the National Patient Safety Agency, and I pay credit to Sir Liam Donaldson, who was chief medical officer under the previous Labour Government and a great champion of patient safety, but we now have different structures in place. The new CQC inspection regime and the healthcare safety investigation branch are giving equal, if not greater, priority to patient safety.

    We discuss on many occasions the funding issues that the hon. Gentleman raised, as I think he is acknowledging with his facial expressions. The point I would make, because we have had a good exchange and I do not want to get into the specific politics of NHS funding, is that this is a win-win, because avoidable harm and death is incredibly expensive for the NHS. The time it takes to carry out investigations when things go wrong is utterly exhausting for the doctors, nurses and managers involved, who would much rather be doing front-line care. Preventing these things from happening in future is the best possible way of freeing up time for people on the frontline.

    I will take away what the hon. Gentleman said about the Elizabeth Dixon case and find out what is happening with that review.

    The real lesson of today is that every family, every doctor and every nurse has a simple aim when a tragedy happens. It is not about money; it is about making sure that lessons are learned openly and transparently so that history does not repeat itself. That is really what this is about, and that is why we will continue our mission to make NHS care the safest and highest quality in the world.

  • The Secretary of State has answered my point, but I would like to say, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on patient safety, that the publication of avoidable death figures is really welcome news. I support what he said about creating a just culture where clinicians and other staff feel safe. That is important so that they can speak up about failure, and vital in delivering the high-quality but, most importantly, safer and better-value services the NHS aspires to.

  • I thank my hon. Friend, who does a huge amount of work on patient safety, not least because of sadness in her own family’s experiences that gives her particular passion in this respect. This is absolutely about creating a just culture. Inspiring people like James Titcombe, who lost his own son at Morecambe Bay, talk far more eloquently than I can about the need to get this right. Part of that just culture is about justice for people who use the NHS in future, to whom we have a responsibility to learn the lessons and make sure that mistakes are not repeated. One of the really important things we need to get right is to make sure that when something goes wrong in one place, there is a national way in which the lessons can be conveyed right across the NHS as quickly as possible.

  • I welcome this statement and remember the discussion of this tragic case. Obviously the majority of people who go into hospital and die in hospital will be people who are simply too ill for us to save, but we must not be nihilistic in imagining that that applies to everybody. The particular failure here was that people with learning difficulties or mental health needs were somehow just set aside and not looked at.

    I welcome the idea of a safety board; there will be lots of things that can be learned and shared in that. I slightly pick up the Secretary of State on what he said about the Scottish patient safety programme, which is a national programme that has been running since the beginning of 2008. Part of that was about breaking down all the barriers, very much like in the airline business—being on first-name terms and making it everybody’s business so that even the cleaner in the theatre feels they can point out that they think a mistake is going to be made, but then when something happens having these adverse case reviews. In my hospital, we also reviewed near misses, and I commend that. It means that there is a review when what might have happened would have been serious. Certainly in the cases that I have been involved in, the family have been involved repeatedly. That is really important.

    I also welcome the idea of a safe place for whistleblowers. People who have raised issues in the past and have been appallingly treated by the NHS still stand there as a terrible example to those who currently work in the NHS, so there needs to be some ability to go back to these old cases and provide justice for people who have ended up losing their careers by trying to raise patient safety issues.

  • I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. I recognise the progress made in the Scottish patient programme, and particularly the inspirational leadership of Jason Leitch, who has done a fantastic job in Scotland and some very pioneering work.

    The hon. Lady made some good points that I will take in reverse order. On whistleblowers, I asked Sir Robert Francis to look at this in his second report. He concluded that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to go back over historical cases, because the courts have pronounced and it is very difficult to create a fair process where legal judgments have already been made. However, I take on board what she says, and I do not think that that means that we cannot learn from what has happened in previous cases; they are very powerful voices.

    The hon. Lady is absolutely right about near misses, and we will include that issue in the “learning from mistakes” ambition.

    The hon. Lady is most right of all about people with learning disabilities. The heart of the problem is deciding when a death was expected and when it was unexpected. About half of us die in hospitals. As she rightly says, the vast majority of those deaths are expected, but when a person has a learning difficulty it is very easy for a wrong assumption to be made that they would have died anyway. That is a prejudice that we have to tackle, and one that Connor Sparrowhawk’s mother talks about extremely powerfully. We have to make sure that this is not just about lessons for the whole NHS, but particularly about ensuring that we do better for people who have learning disabilities.

  • As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on learning disability, for me the most chilling phrase in the foreword of the report was when Mike Richards and his team said:

    “We found that the level of acceptance and sense of inevitability when people with a learning disability or mental illness die early is too common.”

    Will the Secretary of State put on the record what Mike Richards says in the report, namely that there can be no tolerance of treating the deaths of people with learning disabilities with any less importance than the deaths of any other patient in the national health service?

  • I am happy to put on the record the fact that those words have the Government’s wholehearted support. I credit my right hon. Friend for his work leading the APPG. I commissioned the CQC report because a year ago we had a report by Mazars on what happened at Southern Health, which said that only 19% of unexpected deaths were investigated and that that fell to 1% for people with learning disabilities. That cannot be acceptable, and it is why it is so important that we act on today’s report.

  • I seek the indulgence of the House while I raise a personal issue. This Thursday I should have been attending the inquest into my father’s death, which I anticipate will conclude that his death was avoidable. An hour ago I was notified that one of the key witnesses will not be attending because the hospital had incorrect contact details for him—he was a locum, and was unaware that the inquest was taking place. For the second time, therefore, it is being cancelled. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the report looked into the issue of locum doctors—the pressure, and the failure to learn lessons because so many people in the health service, and in A&E in particular, come to the specific hospital on a one-off occasion, which is partly the cause of the defensiveness in the system?

  • First, I am sure the whole House will join me in offering my condolences to the hon. Gentleman for what happened to his father. The incredible grief that he and others feel when they lose a family member is compounded if it is subsequently discovered that the death was avoidable.

    The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The CQC was not specifically looking at the issue of locums in this report, but in many other reports, on many occasions, it has talked about the dangers of locum and agency staff for precisely the reason he mentions. It is partly because people are not necessarily around at the time of an investigation, as they have moved on and work somewhere else, but it is also partly because, as I am sure we all believe, staff can give better care if they are in a team of people who know and trust each other. That is not possible if the majority of staff are employed on a temporary basis. He makes a very important point.

  • It is clear that half of medical negligence claims are in the field of maternity. Does the Secretary of State agree that the fear of legal action often prevents people from speaking out? How will the safe space be created that does not allow lawyers to intervene—very often lawyers slow up the process? An early admission of fault and a willingness to express the fact that lessons have been learned would provide so much comfort for families.

  • My hon. Friend has spoken very eloquently about that issue many times in this House. If a baby is born with a serious brain injury there will typically be a court case that lasts 11 years, and a settlement of around £6 million. That family are having to cope with the shock of having a disabled child—some families say that that is a kind of mourning process because the baby is not the one they were expecting, although they then go on to give the most extraordinary love to that child—and we compound it by making them go through a legal process that lasts more than a decade. It is absolutely shocking and despicable if that happens. We need to find a way to get those families the financial support that they need earlier, and make sure that we learn the lessons more quickly. That is absolutely what this agenda is all about.

  • I also pay tribute to Sara Ryan, the mother of Connor Sparrowhawk, who has fought tirelessly for justice for those with learning disabilities. I warn the Secretary of State that I think she will take some convincing that things really will change, given all the resistance she has come up against. I hope he has managed to meet her; if not, would he be willing to meet her, with me, to discuss the plans going forward?

    One key issue not covered in the report or statement is the timeliness of investigations. A report nine months or a year after the incident is often no good at all: the organisation has moved on, and people have forgotten what has happened. I commend Mersey Care, which does a very quick, thorough investigation within 48 hours, when the information is really current and people are still shocked by what has happened. That is how Mersey Care seeks to implement the lessons from every tragedy.

  • I want to put on the record that the right hon. Gentleman was a big champion for people with learning disabilities when he was in my ministerial team, in particular over issues such as Winterbourne View, which he brought to my attention and did a huge amount of positive work on.

    I have met Sara Ryan. I spoke to her again yesterday. I repeat what I said in my statement: that without her campaigning we would not now be making the huge changes on a national level that we are. I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s other comments.

  • The review found that acute and community trusts do not always record whether a patient has a mental health illness or learning disability. What steps will we take—such as, for example, the expansion of liaison psychiatry services—to make sure there is proper join-up and real parity of esteem?

  • My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We are making sure that all A&Es have liaison psychiatry services by the end of this Parliament. The critical issue is that someone with a severe mental health problem or learning disability who turns up in an A&E has special needs, and has bigger needs than the other patients there, but unless that is recognised early in the process, they are unlikely to get the care they need. If a tragedy then happens and they go on to die—as sadly happens sometimes—but the illness or disability is not known about, people do not realise that there are other potential issues. That is why the report is very clear that all acute trusts are required to know when patients have learning disabilities or mental health problems and to pay particular attention in any mortality investigations that happen regarding those patients.

  • The CQC has produced a grim report, and there was an even grimmer internal report on maternity services operated by Pennine Acute NHS Trust. Mothers and babies have died. I have put in parliamentary questions to the right hon. Gentleman and talked to the chief executive to try to find out which of those deaths were avoidable. I welcome today’s statement, but is it possible to be retrospective, so that the families of those people who have died in the Pennine maternity service can find out whether those deaths were preventable?

  • When the new guidelines are published, we need to investigate, as far as we possibly can, deaths that have already happened. I totally recognise the hon. Gentleman’s picture of Pennine and share his real worry about the standard of care in that trust. The positive thing is that under the leadership of Sir David Dalton—the chief executive of Salford Royal, which is one of the safest trusts in the NHS and a CQC outstanding trust—things are beginning to turn around. I have spoken to him about the situation at Pennine on many occasions. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a lot of work to do there.

  • Many people will be shocked to hear that some trusts do not even know how many in-patients have died in their care. Will my right hon. Friend say more about what action should be taken against boards and leaders who are negligent in that way?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Boards now have a legal duty of candour, and are obliged to tell patients the truth about what has happened when something goes wrong, but how can they possibly do so if they do not properly record deaths or avoidable deaths? That is why this is a very significant moment. From next year, on a quarterly basis, all trusts will be publishing how many avoidable deaths there are in the trust. Those figures will be compared with national benchmarks. That is how we will start to make boards feel that they have a critical responsibility on this.

  • I welcome the learning disability mortality review that the Secretary of State has announced, but I am keen to ensure that it includes unexpected deaths in care settings other than the NHS. When I was first elected, Longcroft, which purported to be a care home for people with learning disabilities, was actually a torture chamber for people with learning disabilities. We have ended that kind of thing, but we need to ensure that unexplained deaths of people with learning disabilities in other care settings are fully investigated, and that those investigations feed into this review.

  • The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. I will take away with me the question of what the legal responsibilities will be for people in adult social care settings. One thing the report highlights, which I had not particularly anticipated, was the problem that a number of people with learning disabilities are cared for in multiple settings, so if there is a tragedy, the place where the tragedy happens may not be the place responsible for what went wrong. Often, the person’s previous care provider never even finds out that that person has died. One thing that Sir Mike Richards talks about is making sure that all care providers are informed promptly when something happens, so that there can be a multi-institution examination of what went wrong.

  • I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the measures that he has announced. I have been supporting the family of a constituent who died unexpectedly in hospital, and they have suffered at every step along the way. There has been a wall of silence, the trust has refused to co-operate and the CQC has refused to investigate. Every step along the way, the family have been frustrated. That has been made even more important by the fact that the son of the deceased is a doctor in the NHS, and he knows that processes have been badly handled. All he wants is for the NHS to learn from its mistakes. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to say what he will do about the number of unexplained deaths that have occurred in the NHS over the past few years, and whether any of those cases can be examined by an appropriate authority?

  • I am happy to look personally at the case that my hon. Friend talks about. I think he speaks for all patients and families who have suffered tragedies when he says that the only thing people want is for lessons to be learned. A more challenging issue is that staff sometimes do not feel empowered to speak out in such situations, and they worry about the consequences. A number of trusts have an outstanding learning culture that is really supportive of staff, but that is not the case everywhere. One of the big lessons from today is that we must work out how to spread that positive culture across the NHS.

  • On 10 December last year, I asked:

    “Is the Secretary of State satisfied that families seeking truth and justice for their loved ones are having to rely on pro bono lawyers for advice and representation, and on crowdsourcing to get legal advice?”

    He said:

    “It should never come down to lawyers.”—[Official Report, 10 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 1147.]

    Sadly, we all know that, on occasion, it will come down to lawyers getting involved. Will any of the recommendations from the CQC cover such eventualities?

  • It is a difficult one, because access to lawyers is a matter for the Ministry of Justice. I am not trying to duck the issue, but my responsibility, in what we are trying to do today, is to try to make sure that families do not feel as though they need to go to lawyers, because the NHS is open and transparent enough. With the values of people in the NHS, I think that ought to be achievable. I am happy to look at the case that she raises, and to bring it up with my colleague the Lord Chancellor.

  • Will the Secretary of State tell the House more about the healthcare safety investigation branch? How big will it be, who will head it up, where will it be based and how will it use its forensic detective work locally to get to the nitty gritty of the things that cause problems for hospitals?

  • I am happy to do that. The best way to understand what we are trying to achieve—this relates to what the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) said earlier about the speed of investigation—is to think about the tragedy of the recent Croydon tram crash. Within one week of the accident, the rail accident investigation branch produced and published a full investigation into exactly what happened, which made it possible to transmit that learning around the whole tram industry. That is what we are looking for. We have modelled the healthcare safety investigation branch on what happens in the transport industry. It has already been set up, and we are lucky that the person heading it up is Keith Conradi, who headed up the air accident investigation branch and knows exactly how these things should happen.

  • The CQC clearly identifies the need for a change in culture, and the Secretary of State acknowledged that a number of times in his remarks today. The NHS has to be less defensive, and it needs to be more honest and open with families if there is to be a genuine commitment to reflect, learn and make sure that things are different in future. What does he think are the barriers to ensuring that that culture change takes place, and what steps does he intend to take to overcome those barriers?

  • There are a number of barriers, one of which is time. Staff feel very pressured for time. I strongly argue that it is a false economy not to allow time for lessons to be learned, because tragedies, when they happen, take up a huge amount of time. From a management and leadership point of view, we have to make sure that doctors and nurses are given the time for reflective learning as part of what they do.

    Another thing is the management culture. If people feel that the management of their trust are open and listening, they are more likely to be open and listening themselves. If they feel that there is a hire-and-fire culture, they are less likely to take that approach. There are a number of lessons.

  • Given the case of three-year-old Sam Morrish, who died at Torbay hospital in 2010, and the conclusions of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman that many investigations into avoidable deaths were not fit for purpose, I welcome the statement. I also welcome the spirit of openness that will follow in relation to these extremely difficult issues. We are, ultimately, all mortal. Although I think it is absolutely right that we will not be setting targets, will the Secretary of State reassure me about the ongoing monitoring we will undertake and the proactive work we will do with trusts to reduce the number of such incidents?

  • As my hon. Friend knows, I have met the parents of Sam Morrish—Scott and Sue Morrish—on a number of occasions. They described how when their son died, all the shutters came down. I met them only a few months after I became Health Secretary, and that engraved itself on my memory because it was so awful to hear about what they were doing.

    My hon. Friend raises a rather sensitive issue, which I tried to talk about in my statement. I expect, as a result of the changes, the number of reported avoidable deaths to increase. If that happens, I do not think that it will necessarily mean that patient care is suffering. We have to be very careful, in this House and with our local newspapers, to say that if trusts start to report an increased number of avoidable deaths, it might mean that they have a more transparent culture and are being more open. Their standards about what is expected and what is unexpected may start to change as they realise that things could have been done to prevent a death that they might previously have described as expected. We have a duty, as Members, to encourage responsible reporting of this new openness, and that, in turn, will help staff.

  • I want to pick up on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins). A constituent of mine who is an agency nurse told me that she had been left in charge of 24 fragile patients, some of whom had the norovirus, on a ward that she did not know very well, with only two healthcare professionals working with her. Given that, will the Secretary of State now commit to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence publishing safe nursing staffing levels, as recommended by the Francis report?

  • NICE has published its staffing levels for wards. I recognise the problem, and it is exactly what we were dealing with in the Francis report. We now have 10,000 more full-time nurses on our hospital wards than we had three years ago. We are making significant progress, but there is still huge pressure on hospital wards. We have developed a new methodology that more accurately makes sure that patients get the care that they need, whether it is from a nurse, a healthcare assistant or whoever else in the hospital. I am happy to write to the hon. Lady and tell her what that guidance is.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The families of those who died in the care of Southern Health in Hampshire have played a vital role in campaigning for transparency and improvements, and they include the family of David Hinks from Havant. Will the Secretary of State join me in commending the families for their work in the most distressing of circumstances?

  • I absolutely do so. I know that the family of David Hinks have campaigned very strongly on this matter. The key point about families is that they are often the people who know best what happened to individuals when something went wrong, because they saw the care at every single stage. Whether the care took place in a care home, hospital or a GP surgery, families are likely to have seen the whole thing, and can really help us to understand what might have gone wrong. They are therefore a positive force in this process.

  • I am so pleased that the Secretary of State took the time to praise James Titcombe and other campaigners in my constituency who have done so much to help to break down the culture of secrecy and cover-up that has afflicted too many of our trusts. The right hon. Gentleman deserves real credit for his determination, and I hope that the tone he has struck today will last and that we do not go back to the accusatory and vindictive tone that, I am afraid, too often marred discussions about this during the last Parliament. Finally—thank you for your indulgence, Mr Speaker—will the Secretary of State say more about the tension between the families’ desire for individual accountability and the need to encourage a culture of openness in which people can come forward?

  • In fairness to the hon. Gentleman, he makes two important points. I know that he worked very closely with James Titcombe, who is one of his constituents.

    We are now learning the right way to deal with the tension between accountability and having a learning culture. Essentially, this boils down to an understanding that 98% of the time a mistake is made because of a systems problem—a structure or a framework that did not enable a doctor or a nurse to operate to the best of their ability—while 2%, 1% or perhaps even less of the time it is a case of genuine negligence by an individual that deserves full accountability. When we understand it in that way, we start to realise that the first thing to ask is what could be changed in the system, but if we uncover bad behaviour by individuals—there are 1.3 million people in the NHS, so it is obviously going to happen at some stage—then there of course needs to be full accountability.

    On the tone of these exchanges, let me say something optimistic: I really do believe that the NHS can become the safest, highest-quality healthcare system in the world. That would be welcomed by the Labour party, as the party that was in power when the NHS was set up, and we would welcome it as part of our absolute commitment to higher standards in public services. There is no country in the world that is even considering what we have announced today, which is to ask hospitals to publish the number of their avoidable deaths on a quarterly basis. It is a very big step that can happen in a system built around public service.

  • Kevin, the son of my constituent Desmond Watts, suffered from very significant learning difficulties and was neglected in a care home in the county, which led to his tragic death. This was completely avoidable. Des has never seen justice for Kevin, but I know that he would want my right hon. Friend to consider whether it is possible to apply to social care some of the principles that he has set out today. I join the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) in encouraging him to do that.

  • My hon. Friend makes a really important point. I will have discussions with the Minister responsible for social care, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), about what we can do in the social care field. I am optimistic that we can do something, because if we make this part of the framework of the new CQC inspection regime—obviously, that has to happen with the consent of the CQC—we can create a very strong incentive for adult social care providers to do what we want and to follow what is happening in the NHS.

  • I, too, want to raise the issue of the appalling neglect in medical care at Pennine Acute. The report—the extremely damning report—only came to light following the persistence of Jennifer Williams, a journalist on the Manchester Evening News, and the bravery of a whistleblower at the trust. I know that the Secretary of State will do what he can to protect whistleblowers, but how will he enforce a no-blame culture and a culture of openness in a trust such as Pennine Acute that appears to have tried actively to suppress this extremely damning report?

  • There should be no hiding place for managers who neglect their legal responsibility, which is the duty of candour that we in this place passed into law in 2014. That is my first point. It is also important to be realistic about the ability to impose a culture on organisations by ministerial diktat, but we can achieve that because this is something that NHS staff want. In some ways, what is most worrying about Pennine is that Salford Royal, one of the best hospitals in the NHS, is virtually next door to it, but the transmission of learning at Salford Royal did not seem to penetrate even into a neighbouring hospital. That is why we must get much better at sharing learning between hospitals.

  • Will the Secretary of State say more about how the additional and extra information he has mentioned, which will be so important for patient groups in judging rates of progress, will be made available?

  • I am happy to do so. We will lay down in regulations in the House that the information must be published for all trusts on a quarterly basis. I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to what I said in the statement, which is that it is not legitimate to compare the numbers in different trusts, because trusts will have different levels of reporting. In fact, our better trusts may actually have higher levels of reported avoidable deaths because they are better at picking up these things.

  • One of the recommendations says:

    “Greater clarity is needed to support agencies working together to investigate deaths and to identify improvements needed across services and commissioning.”

    How is that going to happen?

  • This is a very complex issue, but it is a very important one, particularly for people with learning disabilities who are users of the services of multiple organisations. The National Quality Board will put together guidance before the end of March, so that we can roll this out across the whole NHS during next year.

  • I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, and indeed his commitment to retraining and his recognition of its importance. Does he acknowledge the finding that the families, whom we must remember will be grieving, are not always treated with kindness, respect and sensitivity, which is unacceptable? Does he agree that those handling review cases involving deaths must have compassion and the ability to empathise with families, and that those must be among the qualifications of that job?

  • I absolutely endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. The point is that families and carers are part of the answer because they can help us to understand what went wrong. It is therefore in the interests of all of us to treat them with kindness, respect and dignity.