Defending Public Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:38 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health 3:38 pm, 23rd May 2016

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the chair of that organisation has stepped down, but he is absolutely right about accountability. Accountability needs to be about not just individual organisations within NHS, but the people commissioning mental health care and care for people with learning disabilities. That is why, from July, we will for the first time be publishing Ofsted ratings on the quality of mental health provision and of provision for people with learning disabilities by clinical commissioning groups, so that we can see where the weak areas are and sort them out.

I conclude on quality by saying that important though a seven-day NHS is, we need to go further if we really are to make NHS care the safest and highest quality in the world. According to the respected Hogan and Black analysis, we have 150 avoidable deaths in our NHS every week. That is 3.6% of all hospital deaths with a 50% or more chance that that death could have been avoided. In the United States, Johns Hopkins University said earlier this month that medical error was the third biggest killer after cancer and heart disease, causing 250,000 deaths in the United States alone every year. That is why this year England will become the first country in the world to lead a transparency revolution in which every major hospital will publish its own estimate of its avoidable deaths and its own plans to reduce them. This year, we will focus particularly on reducing maternal deaths, stillbirths and neonatal death and harm, with plans I hope to outline soon to the House.

If we are to do that, perhaps most difficult of all will be transforming a blame culture found in too many parts of the NHS that still makes it far too hard for doctors and nurses to speak openly about medical error. Among other measures, we have set up a new healthcare safety investigation branch to conduct no-blame investigations when we have tragedies. It is modelled on the highly successful air accidents investigation branch. As in the airline industry, our model for reducing avoidable death must be transparency, openness and a learning culture that supports rather than blames front-line professionals, who in the vast majority of cases are only trying to do their best. Part of that new culture of responsibility and accountability must be a return to proper continuity of care, which is why this Government have brought back named GPs for every patient, which had been abolished in 2004, and are introducing lead consultants for people who go to hospital with complex conditions.

In conclusion, for this Government defending the NHS involves higher standards of care, wise use of resources and secure funding from a strong economy. Because the challenges we face in England are the same as in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland— indeed, the same as in developed countries all over the world—we should exercise caution in politicising those pressures, or we simply invite scrutiny of the relative performance of the NHS in different parts of the UK, which often shows that those who complain loudest about NHS performance in England are themselves responsible for even worse performance elsewhere.

What this Government want is simple: a safer seven-day service, backed by funding from a strong economy. Already we have delivered more doctors, more nurses, more operations and better care than ever before in NHS history.