With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s response to the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust public inquiry.
I congratulate my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Mr Lansley, on setting up the public inquiry and on the many changes that he made in foreseeing its likely recommendations. I also pay tribute to Robert Francis QC for his work in producing a seminal report that will, I believe, mark a turning point in the history of the NHS.
Many terrible things happened at Mid Staffs, in what has rightly been described as the NHS’s darkest hour. Both the current and former Prime Minister have apologised. However, when people have suffered on such a scale and died unnecessarily, our greatest responsibility lies not in our words, but in our actions. Our actions must ensure that the NHS is what every health professional and patient wants: a service that is true to NHS values, that puts patients first, and that treats people with dignity, respect and compassion.
The Government accept the essence of the inquiry’s recommendations and will respond to them in full in due course. However, given the urgency of the need for change, I am today announcing the key elements of our response so that we can proceed to implementation as quickly as possible. I have divided our response into five areas: preventing problems from arising by putting the needs of patients first; detecting problems early; taking action promptly; ensuring that there is robust accountability; and leadership. Let me take each in turn.
To prevent problems from arising in the first place, we need to embed a culture of zero harm and compassionate care throughout the NHS; a culture in which the needs of patients are central, whatever the pressures of a busy, modern health service. As Robert Francis said,
“The system as a whole failed in its most essential duty—to protect patients from unacceptable risks of harm and from unacceptable, and in some cases inhumane, treatment that should never be tolerated in any hospital.”
At the heart of this problem is the fact that current definitions of success for hospitals fail to prioritise the needs of patients. Too often, the focus has been on compliance with regulation rather than on what those regulations aim to achieve. Furthermore, the way hospitals are inspected is fundamentally flawed, with the same generalist inspectors looking at slimming clinics, care homes and major teaching hospitals—sometimes in the same month. We will therefore set up a new regulatory model under a strong, independent chief inspector of hospitals, working for the Care Quality Commission. Inspections will move to a new specialist model based on rigorous and challenging peer review. Assessments will include judgments about hospitals’ overall performance, including whether patients are listened to and treated with dignity and respect, the safety of services, responsiveness, clinical standards and governance.
The Nuffield Trust has reported on the feasibility of assessments and Ofsted-style ratings, and I am very grateful for its thorough work. I agree with its conclusion that there is a serious gap in the provision of clear, comprehensive and trusted information on the quality
of care. In order therefore to expose failure, recognise excellence and incentivise improvement, the chief inspector will produce a single aggregated rating for every NHS trust. Because the patient experience will be central to the inspection, it will not be possible for hospitals to get a good inspection result without the highest standards of patient care.
The Nuffield Trust rightly says, however, that in organisations as large and as complex as hospitals, a single rating on its own would be misleading. The chief inspector will therefore also assess hospital performance at speciality or department level. This will mean that cancer patients will be told of the quality of cancer services, and prospective mothers the quality of maternity services. We will also introduce a chief inspector of social care and look into the merits of a chief inspector of primary care to ensure that the same rigour is applied across the health and care system.
We must also build a culture of zero harm throughout the NHS. This does not mean there will never be mistakes, just as a safety-first culture in the airline industry does not mean there are no plane crashes, but it does mean an attitude to harm that treats it as totally unacceptable and takes enormous trouble to learn from mistakes. We await the report on how to achieve this in the NHS from Professor Don Berwick. Zero harm means listening to and acting on complaints, so I will ask the chief inspector to assess hospital complaints procedures, drawing on the work being done by Ann Clwydand Professor Tricia Hart to look at best practice.
Given that one of the central complaints of nurses is that they are required to do too much paperwork and thus spend less time with patients, I have asked the NHS Confederation to review how we can reduce the bureaucratic burden on front-line staff and NHS providers by a third. I will also be requiring the new Health and Social Care Information Centre to use its statutory powers to eliminate duplication and reduce bureaucratic burdens.
Secondly, we must have a clearer picture of what is happening within the NHS and social care system so that, where problems exist, they are detected more quickly. As Francis recognised, the disjointed system of regulation and inspection smothered the NHS, collecting too much information but producing too little intelligence. We will therefore introduce a new statutory duty of candour for providers to ensure that honesty and transparency are the norm in every organisation, and the new chief inspector of hospitals will be the nation’s whistleblower-in-chief.
To ensure that there is no conflict in that role, the CQC will no longer be responsible for putting right any problems identified in hospitals. Its enforcement powers will be delegated to Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority, which it will be able to ask to act when necessary. We know that publishing survival results improves standards, as has been shown in heart surgery, so I am very pleased that we will be doing the same for a further 10 disciplines—cardiology, vascular, upper gastrointestinal, colorectal, orthopaedic, bariatric, urological, head and neck, and thyroid and endocrine surgery.
The third part of our response is to ensure that any concerns are followed by swift action. The problem with Mid Staffs was not that the problems were unknown; it was that nothing was done. The Francis report sets out a timeline of around 50 warning signs between 2001
and 2009, yet Ministers and managers in the wider system failed to act on those warnings. Some were not aware of them; others dodged responsibility. That must change. No hospital will be rated as good or outstanding if fundamental standards are breached, and trusts will be given a strictly limited period of time to rectify any such breaches. If they fail to do that, they will be put into a failure regime that could ultimately lead to special administration and the automatic suspension of the board.
The fourth part of our response concerns accountability for wrongdoers. It is important to say that what went wrong at Mid Staffs was not typical of our NHS, and that the vast majority of doctors and nurses give excellent care day in, day out. We must ensure that the system does not crush the innate sense of decency and compassion that drives people to give their lives to the NHS.
Francis said that primary responsibility for what went wrong at Mid Staffs lies with the board. We will, therefore, look at new legal sanctions at corporate level for organisations that wilfully generate misleading information or withhold information that they are required to provide. We will also consult on a barring scheme to prevent managers found guilty of gross misconduct from finding a job in another part of the system. In addition, we intend to change the practices around severance payments, which have caused great public disquiet.
The General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and other professional regulators have been asked to tighten their procedures for breaches of professional standards. I will wait to hear how they intend to do that, and for Don Berwick’s conclusions on zero harm, before deciding whether it is necessary to take further action. The chief inspector will also ensure that hospitals are meeting their existing legal obligations to ensure that unsuitable health care support workers are barred.
The final part of our response will be to ensure that NHS staff are properly led and motivated. As Francis said,
“all who work in the system, regardless of their qualifications or role, must recognise that they are part of a very large team who all have but one objective, the proper care and treatment of their patients”.
Today I am announcing some important changes in training for nurses. I want NHS-funded student nurses to spend up to a year working on the front line as support workers or health care assistants as a prerequisite for receiving funding for their degree. That will ensure that people who become nurses have the right values and understand their role. Health care support workers and adult social care workers will now have a code of conduct and minimum training standards, both of which are being published today. I will also ask the chief inspector to ensure that hospitals are properly recruiting, training and supporting health care assistants, drawing on the recommendations being produced by Camilla Cavendish. The Department of Health will learn from the criticisms of its own role by becoming the first Department in which every civil servant will have real and extensive experience of the front line.
The events at Stafford Hospital were a betrayal of the worst kind—a betrayal of patients, families, and the vast majority of NHS staff who do everything in their power to give their patients the high-quality, compassionate
care they deserve. I want Mid Staffs to be not a byword for failure but a catalyst for change, and to create an NHS where everyone can be confident of safe, high-quality, compassionate care, and where best practice becomes common practice, and the way a person is made to feel as a human being is every bit as important as the treatment they receive. That must be our mission and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for the measured way in which he introduced it.
The NHS is 65 this year, and if it is to be ready for the challenges of this century, it must learn from the darkest hours of its past. The NHS was founded on compassion and, as the Secretary of State said, what happened at Stafford was a betrayal of that. Rightly, apologies have been given, but it is now time to act and make this a moment of change.
Robert Francis delivered 290 careful recommendations after a three-year public inquiry and, like the Secretary of State, I pay tribute to him today. In response, the Prime Minister promised a detailed response to each recommendation by the end of this month. Although the Opposition welcome much of what the Secretary of State has said today, his statement falls short of that promised full response and contains serious omissions on which I would like to press him, in particular, on four of Robert Francis’s flagship recommendations, which I shall take in turn.
First, we welcome the move to place a duty of candour on health-care providers and believe it could help bring about the culture change the NHS needs. The Francis report, however, goes further and recommends a duty of candour on individual members of staff. Will the Secretary of State say more about why he has only accepted this recommendation in part and not applied it to staff? Has he ruled that out or is he prepared to give it further consideration?
Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the duty will apply equally to all providers of NHS services, including private providers? His statement was a little vague on that point. More generally, with more private providers coming into the NHS, is it not the case that we will not get the transparency we need unless the provisions of freedom of information apply fully to all holders of NHS contracts and information cannot be withheld under commercial confidentiality?
Secondly, on patient voice, the Government have announced new chief inspectors of hospitals and social care. Those were not Francis recommendations and, while we give them a cautious welcome, I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that regulation alone will not be enough to prevent another Mid Staffs. Instead, we need a powerful patient voice in every community that is able to sound the alarm if things are going wrong. Rather than pulling down the shutters, as the NHS has a tendency to do, complaints should be embraced as opportunities to learn and improve.
It is just a matter of days until the new NHS comes into being and the concern is that patient voice has not been embedded at the heart of the new system. A third of councils say that their local healthwatch will not be up and running by the
wide variations in both structure and membership. Will the Government accept Robert Francis’s recommendation of a consistent basic structure for healthwatch programmes throughout the country before it is too late and they go their separate ways?
Thirdly, on regulation and training, Robert Francis has made a very clear case for a new system of regulation of health care assistants to improve basic standards—a case that we made during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012—yet it did not feature in the Secretary of State’s statement. Have the Government accepted in principle the regulation of health care assistants?
We support moves to rebalance nurse training and to include more hands-on experience, but student nurses already spend 50% of their time in clinical practice and face significant financial barriers when completing their training. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that requiring a year on the ward will not increase the financial barriers to young people entering nursing and, if more trainees are to be on the wards, will he ensure that there are enough staff with the time to train the extra students?
That takes me to my fourth point and the most glaring omission from the Secretary of State’s statement, namely safe staffing levels. We will never get the right culture on our wards if they are understaffed and over-stretched, but there is evidence that things are going in the wrong direction and the Secretary of State was silent on the issue today.
The CQC has recently reported that one in 10 hospitals in England do not have adequate staffing levels. Just last week, work force figures showed that there had been a reduction of 843 nurses between November and December last year. Does that not sound the clearest of alarm bells that some parts of the NHS are already in danger of forgetting the lessons of its recent past by cutting the front line too far? Do not communities need a clear, objective benchmark so that they can challenge staffing levels on wards, and would it not be a great help to them for the Francis recommendation on staff-patient ratios to be accepted? We learned last week that the Department has handed £2.2 billion from last year’s budget back to the Treasury. Surely that money would have been better invested in the front line and in bringing all hospitals in England back up to safe staffing levels.
Finally, I want to turn to Stafford hospital itself, which Monitor has recommended should be placed in administration. This doubt about the hospital’s future will be causing real concern to the people of Stafford. After all they have been through, I think we can all agree that they deserve a safe and sustainable hospital, and I hope the Secretary of State will soon set out a plan to achieve that.
Learning the lessons of Stafford cannot be done overnight. We all have to play our part. The Government have made a start today, but much more needs to be done and we will hold them to that.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about glaring omissions in the Government’s response, but there were glaring omissions in his response too. Where was the apology for Labour’s targets culture that led to so many of the problems; the apology for failing to set up a
regulatory structure that had proper safeguards; and the apology for missing all those warning signs? This was not just the darkest day in NHS history, but the darkest day in Labour’s management of the NHS. It is time the Labour party recognised the policy mistakes it made.
Let me go through what the right hon. Gentleman says are omissions. First, on the duty of candour, we accept the principle of the duty of candour when it applies to hospital boards, but we want to be absolutely sure that there are not unintended consequences of applying it to hospital staff, because another part of the Francis report is on the importance of a culture of openness and transparency, and we do not want a culture of fear. We have therefore not ruled out criminal sanctions for hospital employees who breach a duty of candour—they already have a contractual duty of candour —but, as I said in my statement, we want to wait for the result of Don Berwick’s report on zero harm to ensure that we do not take any measure that impedes the openness we need in hospitals.
The inspection regime will apply to all providers. It is important that it should, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman, who mentioned private providers, that the problems happened at an NHS hospital. Trying to turn this into a debate on privatisation tells people that Labour is missing the point in the response to Francis.
We will not introduce statutory regulation of health care assistants, but we will introduce minimum standards of training for them. We will not introduce statutory regulation because we believe there is a risk that a database of 0.5 million to 1.5 million people could end up being a box-ticking exercise that fails to raise standards in the way we need. We believe we have another way to achieve the same end, which is what we will implement.
On nurse training, we believe it is important that nurses have hands-on experience of the front line, because nurses, when they are properly qualified, will be managing health care assistants. It is therefore important that nurses understand what it is like to be a health care assistant. We will be very careful in how we implement that to ensure that we do not create financial barriers because, obviously, we want to attract the best people into nursing, regardless of income.
On staffing levels and nursing numbers, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the problems at Mid Staffs happened when Labour was in power, when budgets were going up quite significantly, and when numbers were going up. To distil the problem to one of numbers is, again, to miss the point. This is about the values of the people on the ward. If he wants to talk about numbers, he must accept that, because this Government have protected the NHS budget, which he wants to cut from its current levels, there are 6,000 more clinical staff in the NHS today than there were at the time of the last election.
On Stafford hospital, it is extremely important that, when we have problems such as the ones at Mid Staffs, we create a structure that makes it impossible not to deal with them. That is a difficult process. We are announcing today a time-limited process to ensure that Ministers and the system cannot duck difficult decisions when we have a failing hospital. Obviously, we will follow the Monitor trust special administrators’ recommendations and look at them carefully, but it is important to address the issues. The wrong thing to do would be to fail to do so, because that would lead to clinical failure.
I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman broadly accepts the Francis recommendations. He asked whether we would respond to all of them. The inquiry was a public inquiry, which he refused to set up. As a result of that detailed public inquiry, there are 290 recommendations. It takes time to go through all of them in detail, but I thought it was right to come to the House today with our initial response so that we can get cracking with the important things right away.
Order. Dozens of colleagues are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that the Government have scheduled today three ministerial statements on important matters, and colleagues will note that there are three Back Bench-inspired debates to follow, in which 48 hon. Members are interested in speaking. There is therefore a real premium on time, and I must appeal for single, short supplementary questions and characteristically pithy replies.
I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House and making a statement that helps to restore our confidence in the NHS, which has been so badly undermined by Labour’s appalling stewardship. Will he take steps to ensure that any complaints procedure provides protection to patients and relatives who raise concerns?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The thing about complaints procedures is that we must have a system that is not about process and whether there is a response to a complaint in three days. The question is whether a hospital looks at and learns from a complaints procedure and changes its behaviour. That is what Ann Clwyd and Professor Tricia Hart are looking into. Hospitals will be inspected against best practice to try to encourage as many of them as possible to adopt the very best complaints procedures.
The Secretary of State has announced that he will consult on a barring scheme to prevent managers who are found guilty of gross misconduct from finding a job in another part of the system. To how many managers of Mid Staffordshire would he expect that to apply?
The hon. Lady will know that, when it comes to individuals—appalled as I am, and as appalled as all hon. Members are, by what happened at Mid Staffs—I must try not to prejudge due process. If we are to bar people from employment, we must have a fair process and system and a right of appeal, which is required under our law anyway. However, I would not expect any manager responsible for the kind of things that happened at Mid Staffs to be able to get a job in the health service ever again.
I listened to Peter Walsh’s thoughtful contribution to the “Today” programme this morning. We will consider carefully whether to apply the statutory duty of candour, backed up with criminal sanctions, to hospital employees. The review on zero harm and creating the right culture in hospitals will report not in a long time, but before the summer break, so it is right to wait until we have it before making our final decision.
The Francis report said that three areas went wrong: the first was unprofessional behaviour; the second was a lack of leadership; and the third was that the overwhelming prevalent factors were lack of staff in terms of both absolute numbers and appropriate skills. Given that we have lost thousands of nursing posts in the past few years, is the Secretary of State missing the point?
If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to what I have said, he would know that the number of clinical staff has gone up by 6,000 since the last election, which would not have been possible had we cut the NHS budget, which is what Labour Front Benchers want. It is important to ensure that we have the right numbers in wards to care for people. That is exactly what the new chief inspector will look at. There is evidence that hospitals that have the highest and most respected standards of care ensure they have adequate numbers not just of nurses, but of health care assistants. The whole NHS needs to learn the lesson that it must not cut corners when it comes to care.
My right hon. Friend’s welcome statement shows just how important the inquiry was, and how vital its lessons will be for patient care and safety. The royal colleges have a great responsibility. Will he call them together on a regular basis to discuss how they are checking and raising standards in their professions to ensure first-class care for patients?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for his extraordinarily tireless work and for the extremely measured and mature attitude he has taken to the problems in the hospital, which is on his patch. Hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome that. He is right about the role of the royal colleges. There are some challenging suggestions in the Francis report for some of those colleges, but when we are seeking to raise standards, it is important that setting up that scorecard for the new chief inspector happens with the help of the royal colleges, whose business it is to raise standards in the NHS.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and we welcome the continuation of this discussion at the Health Committee. One of the recommendations of Francis was for the Secretary of State to look at the overlap between the CQC and Monitor, both of which were involved and have accepted they were part of the failings. Under the new inspection regime, will the chief inspector report to the Secretary of State or to the NHS Commissioning Board?
Neither. The chief inspector will report to the CQC. The hon. Lady is right that one of the problems is the overlapping roles and the confusion of roles. What we are announcing today is a significant change in the
responsibilities of the CQC. It will no longer be involved in putting right problems in hospitals: its job will simply be to identify problems, so it is not compromised in its ability to be the nation’s whistleblower-in-chief. The responsibility for putting right problems will lie with Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority, the NHS Commissioning Board and the wider NHS system. We want to make sure that the chief inspector is unconstrained and unconflicted, when his or her team goes into hospitals, from shouting loudly if there is a problem and continuing to shout loudly until it is solved.
These changes all come against a background of other changes in the NHS, such as clinical commissioning groups, Healthwatch and health and wellbeing boards, and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would be kind enough to put in the Library a plain person’s guide, so that we can understand how these new regulators, inspectors and various other bodies fit in with each other—who is accountable to whom—so we as constituency MPs will know whom to approach and on what occasion. I am sure that all these changes are very welcome, but we need to understand how they relate to each other.
I am sure that my hon. Friend’s sentiments are shared on both sides of the House. Indeed, I could have done with such a guide when I started this job last September. I am happy to do as he requests, but from today’s announcement the most important thing that the country should know is that when it comes to failures in care, the buck stops in one place. It will be the chief inspector’s job to identify such failures and shout publicly about them, and that will be an important clarification that the system needs.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that it is his intention that the statutory duty of candour—and the introduction of a ratings system—will apply to home care and care homes, not just NHS providers?
Yes, I can confirm that. My hon. Friend is right, because part of the big change that we need is to see a big increase in provision of domiciliary care, and an increase in the standard of that care.
The Secretary of State talks about severance and follow-on employment. Does he think it is acceptable that when the former chief executive of Morecambe Bay hospitals trust had to step down in February last year, because of the problems there, he was kept on the books in secret and paid £250,000 from local trust budgets—which could otherwise have gone to local health care—and was transferred to the NHS Confederation where his responsibilities could include teaching future leaders and helping to redesign the system?
I very much welcome the return of student nurses to the wards for a year of their training. Project 2000 has much to answer for. On the subject of resourcing and staff to patient ratios, may I remind my right hon. Friend that many of the reports we have seen in the last few years, criticising hospitals for poor care and lack of dignity in the care of older people in particular, have shown that wards in the same hospitals have had very different standards of care? How can that be about resourcing?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important that these assessments are made not just at an organisation level, but drill down into the different parts of a hospital, and we have taken that message on board from the Nuffield report on ratings. She is right that it is not just about resources, but sometimes it is about resources. Parts of a hospital can be understaffed when it comes to people who are required to perform basic and important roles in terms of care. Because it is a complex picture—and because numbers can be part of the problem, but are certainly not the whole problem—we want a chief inspector who will take a holistic view of every aspect of the performance of a hospital and be able to give proper feedback that a hospital can use to improve its performance.
May I press the Health Secretary on this point? I have raised several times the point that adequate staffing levels are crucial to patient safety and good care, but we seem to dodge around saying that it is a question of values, not of numbers. Francis said clearly that one of the issues was numbers. I have given examples of my local hospital, which views it as crucial that it has the right staffing mix, which it adjusts every single day, for the patients that it has. Will he stop avoiding this question and address it directly, because one in 10 hospitals do not have adequate staffing levels?
I am not avoiding it. I agree that adequate staffing levels are essential to patient care. I remind the hon. Lady that the shadow Health Secretary said to the Francis inquiry:
“I do not think that the Government could ever mandate a headcount in organisations. Whilst we could recommend staff levels, we were moving into an era when trusts were being encouraged to work differently and cleverly, and take responsibility for delivering safe care whilst meeting targets”.
The Secretary of State rightly talks about a betrayal of trust of the worst kind, and he is right. He is also right about zero harm, and about much else that he has done. But there is one serious omission—of accountability—and that must be robust and include the resignation of Sir David Nicholson. I also apportion responsibility to those former Secretaries of State who were not called to give evidence but bear a heavy responsibility for not having done the right thing at the right time.
My hon. Friend knows that I have a different view of the level of responsibility of Sir David Nicholson, but I agree that everyone working in the system at that
time shares some responsibility for what happened. We must make sure that it can never happen again. The accountability that we are introducing, including criminal sanctions for boards that fail in their statutory duties, will be a significant change. The body that was responsible for what went wrong at Mid Staffs, according to Francis, was the board of the hospital, so that is where our focus must be. Today is also about getting the right structures outside the hospital to make sure there is accountability there too.
The Secretary of State has referred to the fact the chief inspector will inspect hospital performance at specialty or department level. How will that be done? If records, paperwork and bureaucracy are being reduced in hospitals, will hospitals’ own records be used to make those assessments or will the inspector use other information?
Of course we need to rely on good information being supplied by hospitals, and that is why we have said today that it will be a criminal offence for hospitals knowingly to supply wrong information. This goes back to an earlier question, and we will work closely with outside bodies, such as the royal colleges, to ensure that we establish the best way to judge, for example, cancer survival rates. One of the lessons of the success of measuring heart surgery survival rates is the importance of having a good risk-adjustment process in place. We will do that across the other 10 specialties that I announced today.
Although I acknowledge the Secretary of State’s genuine desire to improve hospital standards by the introduction of his new inspectorate, I am concerned about the further reliance on systems above individual responsibility. Will he assure the House that his new inspectorate will not become yet another component of the merry-go-round of management employment schemes currently found in the NHS? Will he also assure me that those implicated in previous hospital management scandals will not be employed as inspectors in the future?
My hon. Friend is right: we have to ensure that the inspectorate works in the successful way that Ofsted has worked in the school system, and does not make the mistakes that have been made by other regulators inside the NHS system. It is important that it is based on respected peer review, is thorough and is respected in terms of the input that it is able to give hospitals on improving their performance. We will work hard to make sure that we deliver that.
We are piloting the scheme to ensure that we do not end up discriminating against nurses for financial reasons. We want to attract the best people into the profession, whatever their financial background.
Every time there is a scandal, the response of the British political establishment is to load more controls, accountability and bureaucracy on professionals, yet every nurse and
doctor I meet is fed up with what already happens. As a result of the reforms, will the Secretary of State assure us that we will now trust professionals to get on with the job they love?
I agree with those sentiments strongly. In parallel to this process and these changes, I have asked the NHS Confederation to recommend how we can reduce the bureaucratic burden on hospital front-line staff by a third, precisely because I want to avoid the issues that my hon. Friend mentions. This is about freeing up time for people at the front line, and one way is to have an inspection system in which everyone has confidence. Once there is the confidence that problems will be identified, it becomes much easier, as has happened in the education system, to give more freedom to people on the front line.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The public inquiry has been thorough, with new standards put in place and lessons learned from the NHS in Staffordshire. Health in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter. Will he confirm that the report will be sent to the Northern Ireland Assembly Health Minister, Edwin Poots, so that improvements and guidelines can be improved for everyone in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
May I commend my right hon. Friend’s emphasis on leadership? In Colchester, we have seen periods of good and bad leadership, and good leadership is self-evidently the right answer to hospital management. Can I therefore ask him to lay more emphasis on what constitutes good leadership and trust between good leaders and their employees in the health service right through the system, including from Sir David Nicholson downwards, and not to rely overmuch on regulation, which is no substitute for good leadership?
I agree wholeheartedly. It is very important that we understand that the benefit of the new inspection regime will not just be that it identifies failing hospitals, but outstanding hospitals too, so that we have a good model of leadership in the system from which other managers can learn. Yes, it is really important to have the right relationships between managers and their staff, but we should not mandate or regulate that from the centre. We want to have a system where people can learn from each other.
That is at the heart of what the reforms intend to achieve. An organisation as complex and as large as the NHS needs corporate objectives and targets—for example, we need to do a lot better on dementia—and we do set system-wide objectives. However, we have to ensure that those objectives, set by whichever party happens to be in power, never compromise the fundamental
care and compassion that needs to be at the heart of what the NHS does. We are putting in the safeguards that ensure that that cannot happen.
We have not had those discussions yet, but we will be introducing them through pilot schemes to give the devolved Administrations plenty of time to talk to us about any knock-on impacts they may have in their areas.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the decision to grant foundation trust status to Mid Staffs in 2008 was catastrophic in terms of the trust taking its eye off the ball and focusing on targets rather than on care, and that, now it is being abolished just five years later, never again must a Government pressurise a trust into a particular organisational form just to validate its ideological policy, rather than because it improves the care of patients?
I would also like to thank my hon. Friend for the work that he does for his local hospital in difficult circumstances directly involved in this terrible scandal. I agree with him: the corporate objective to become a foundation trust overrode everything else in the hospital, at huge expense to patient care. We must never allow that to happen again.
What most people want when they use the NHS is a reliable, accessible service, and to know that when something goes wrong somebody will be held to account and brought to book. Clearly, that has not happened. What can the Secretary of State say to reassure our constituents that people will be held accountable on an individual level, and that we will not see this happen again?
That accountability is extremely important and happens on many different levels. In particular, we have professional codes of conduct for doctors and nurses, so that in the exceptional situations where those codes are breached, we know, as members of the public, they will be held to account. Those are done at arm’s length from the Government by the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council, but we are talking to them about why it is that still no doctor or nurse has been struck off following what happened at Mid Staffs—I think that is completely wrong.
I know I repeat myself, but adequate registered nurse-to-patient ratios are often at the heart of these failings, yet on page 68 of the report my right hon. Friend rejects the idea of any kind of national benchmarking or guidelines with regard to patient ratios. Will my right hon. Friend keep an open mind and meet me, Professor Elizabeth Robb of the Florence Nightingale Foundation and others from the profession so that we can explore this issue?
We are not saying that minimum standards of adequate staffing levels are not needed, but we reject the idea that they should be mandated from the centre—I think there is cross-party agreement on that. The chief inspector will look at and highlight the reasons for poor care and, if they are due to inadequate staffing levels, ensure that something is done about it.
On the rare occasions when a clinician or other member of hospital staff raises a problem and it is not taken care of, may I suggest that employers have a box in which to put in a note saying what the problem is? There should be a receipt so that if there is an inquiry later, it can be shown what the hospital should have paid attention to right at the beginning.
That sounds like something that would definitely encourage the duty of candour that we have been talking about today. I am sure that different hospitals will want to have different ways of doing that, but we will definitely note my hon. Friend’s comments.
Staffing levels are important, but so are bed numbers. Many of the 41,000 beds lost under the previous Government were in my constituency. Consequently, we have massive pressure on beds, wards on purple alerts and very high mortality rates. Will any inspection regime include an assessment of safe bed levels?
The inspection regime will of course cover such issues as part of its inspection of whether basic standards of care are being met. Yes, of course such issues matter, but there are challenges beyond what an inspection regime can deliver which we will need to address to deal with these issues. In particular, a problem we are wrestling with at the moment is who will take responsibility for the frail elderly when they are discharged from hospital. One reason why they stay in hospital for a long time is because geriatricians are nervous about sending them back into the community. They do not think anyone will take responsibility for them and that is something we have to look at.
On the respective roles of CQC and Monitor, can my right hon. Friend indicate that he expects Monitor to use the full regulatory tools at its disposal and give appropriate challenge to the boards of foundation trusts and hospitals where failure is indicated?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the changes we are announcing today is that, in the case of foundation trusts, CQC will be delegating its enforcement powers to Monitor so that it has more powers to insist on necessary changes and ensure that fundamental standards are not being breached.
Will my right hon. Friend note that the Patients Association and campaigners such as the Powell family in Wales will not be satisfied by what he has had to say about the duty of candour until we have a full statutory duty in line with what Robert Francis recommended?
We will have a full statutory duty, in line with what Robert Francis says, when it comes to the boards of hospitals. We are carefully considering whether that should apply to individual hospital employees, but we want to wait until we have Don Berwick’s review of zero harm.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the best system in the world will not succeed if individuals who behave inhumanely get away with it and people who observe them behaving inhumanely do not report it? I therefore re-emphasise what my hon. Friend Jonathan Evans has just said: if individuals see this inhumane behaviour, they must report it.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, particularly the parts about where perverse effects of the old target culture kick into the NHS. When the dust has settled on the Francis report and its conclusions, will he look at targets that affect the ambulance service and how they directly affect rural communities across the country?
We will absolutely do that, but I should also reassure my hon. Friend that the inspection regime will apply to the ambulance service as well as hospital trusts.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but does he share my sorrow that it has taken so long and so many deaths to reach this stage, when Labour was presented with reports by Don Berwick himself highlighting bad quality assessment, when 120 bodies had overlapping responsibilities and when he said that patient safety was not central to the NHS? Is it not tragic that it has taken this long?
I thank my hon. Friend. Sadly, I agree with her sentiments. We have a responsibility to ensure that we have structures in place that make it impossible to delay addressing these difficult issues. That is the central challenge that I now face.
We are fortunate to have a high-performing general hospital in Keighley and Ilkley, but does my right hon. Friend agree that even hospitals such as Airedale hospital must not be complacent? Quality must be paramount. Every member of staff has a responsibility to deliver the high level of compassionate care that he spoke about.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I visited Airedale hospital and was very impressed with the level of care I saw there. It is one of the only hospital trusts in the country—if not the only one—where doctors can see
the full history of what patients going into A and E have been prescribed by their GPs, which has an important impact on patient safety.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the action he has taken, particularly re-instilling the importance of compassion in the NHS and the changes he is proposing to the training of nurses. Can he inform the House of any other NHS trust where similar concerns are being investigated?
One of the problems at the moment is that we do not have a good way of identifying other hospitals. The hospital inspection regime will start this year. That will obviously be the start, but prior to that we are conducting an investigation into 14 hospitals with higher than average mortality rates. That is one indicator: it might not mean there is a problem, but it is something we think is worth checking out.
Finally, let me say that my hon. Friend has an extremely good record on improving standards in education by understanding the importance of rigour. That is something we can learn from in the inspection regime for hospitals.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that any revised patient care ratings include an enhanced emphasis on the degree to which things are explained clearly to patients and relatives and how relatives are kept informed?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is absolutely essential that the new chief inspector’s team talks to patients and relatives to get that feedback. One of the biggest changes from what we have now to what we will have is the element of judgment in the assessments made. We will not just be looking at the data, the dials or the numbers; there will be someone going to a hospital, smelling the coffee, understanding the culture of the place and talking to patients and relatives.
I commend the Secretary of State for his statement and for what I think is an absolutely outstandingly powerful report. However, I have concerns about recently proposed changes to the consultant-led maternity services at Eastbourne district general hospital. Will he confirm for the record that any changes that I and others have concerns about will be considered by the new chief inspector of hospitals?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenious segue. All hospitals—all NHS trusts—will be inspected by the chief inspector, so everything that happens at Eastbourne will be covered by the new regime. It will be strong, rigorous and independent, so that any concerns that my hon. Friend has should be picked up by anything that the chief inspector reports on.