Gosport Independent Panel

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:48 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 1:48 pm, 21st November 2018

I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement. I welcome the statement and the tone of his remarks, and I thank him for repeating the unambiguous and clear apology that the previous Secretary of State, Mr Hunt, offered at the Dispatch Box before the summer—it is good to see the previous Secretary of State sitting on the Treasury Bench today.

We welcome the Secretary of State’s apology today. The whole House was shocked when the previous Secretary of State reported the findings of the Gosport inquiry to the House. This Secretary of State is right to remind us that everyone who lost a life was “a son or daughter, a mother or father, a sister or brother”. As he said, our thoughts are with the families of the 456 patients whose lives were shortened because of what happened at Gosport, and the families of the 200 others who may have suffered—whose lives may have been shortened; because of missing medical records, we will never know for sure. That lingering doubt—never knowing whether they were victims of what happened at Gosport—must be a particularly intolerable burden for those families affected.

Like the Secretary of State, I pay tribute to the victims’ families, who, as he says, have in the face of grief shown immense courage, fortitude and commitment to demand the truth. I think the whole House will pay tribute to them today. I also reiterate our gratitude to the former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, for his extraordinary dedication, persistence, compassion and leadership in uncovering this injustice. Finally, I applaud those hon. Members who played a central role in establishing this inquiry, not just the previous Secretary of State, but Norman Lamb and the Minister for Care, Caroline Dinenage, who in recent years has played an important role in her capacity as a constituency MP.

The Secretary of State is correct to say that lessons must be learned and applied across the whole system. We all understand that in the delivery of healthcare and the practice of medicine, sadly, tragically, things can and do sometimes go wrong, but we also understand, as Bishop Jones said in his report, that

“the handing over of a loved one to a hospital, to doctors and nurses is an act of trust”,

but that that trust was

“betrayed.”

I still believe that that betrayal was unforgivable. Patient safety must always be the priority, so when there are systemic failures, it is our duty to act, learn lessons and change policies.

I wish to respond to the Secretary of State’s announcements today. We welcome his commitment to legislation placing more transparency duties on trusts, and we will engage constructively with that legislation. Is it his intention to bring forward amendments to the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill, and if so when, or should we expect a new bill altogether? We look forward to his proposals on strengthening protection for whistleblowers, but he will know that the NHS has just spent £700,000 contesting the case of whistleblower Dr Chris Day, a junior doctor who raised safety concerns. He will also be aware of the British Medical Association survey showing that not even half of doctors feel they would have the confidence to raise concerns about safety. Moreover, he will be aware of how Dr Bawa-Garba’s case played out, with her personal reflections effectively used in evidence against her. Can he offer more details on how he will change the climate in the NHS so that clinicians feel they can speak out without being penalised?

I welcome the thrust of the Secretary of State’s remarks on medical examiners, and I agree they are a crucial reform, but can he offer us some more details? Is it still the Government’s intention that they will be employed directly by acute trusts? He will be aware that this has provoked questions about their independence. We would urge him to go further and base them in local authorities and extend their remit to primary care, nursing homes and mental health and community health trusts. If legislation is needed, we would work constructively with him.

We welcome the review into improving safety when prescribing and dispensing medicine. Clearly one of the first questions that comes to mind when reading the Gosport report is: how were these prescriptions monitored? The Government’s own research indicates that more than 230 million medication errors take place a year, and it has been estimated that these errors and mix-ups could contribute to as many as 22,000 deaths a year, so this review is clearly urgent. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether it will be an independent review, who will lead it and when we can expect it to report?

Finally, patient safety is compromised when staff are overworked and overburdened with pressures. He will know that we have over 100,000 staff vacancies across the NHS. Some trusts are proposing closing A&E departments overnight because they do not have the staff and some are even proposing closing chemotherapy wards because they believe that the lack of staffing means services are unsafe. How does the Secretary of State plan to recruit the staff our NHS desperately needs to provide the level of safe care patients deserve?

In conclusion, I offer to work constructively with the Secretary of State to improve patient safety across the NHS, and we support his statement today.