Health and Social Care

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:17 pm on 16th January 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Conservative, South West Surrey 1:17 pm, 16th January 2020

Let me start by saying that it is wonderful to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, and that your presence there is a signal to every new Member that it is possible to undergo the ups and downs of politics and come through on the other side.

I thank the Health Secretary for his personal commitment to patient safety in including the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill in the Queen’s Speech, and I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Ms Dorries, for her personal commitment in ensuring that it featured in both last year’s Queen’s Speech and the current one, despite many competing pressures. It is about patient safety that I wish to talk in my brief six minutes. When I became Health Secretary in 2012, I had not heard the phrase.

The first crisis with which I had to deal was the one at Mid Staffs. I remember the then chief executive of the NHS, Sir David Nicholson, taking me aside and saying, “You just need to understand, Jeremy, that in healthcare we harm 10% of patients. That is what happens all over the world.” I then asked the awkward question about how many people actually died because of mistakes in healthcare.

It is important to point out that this is not about the NHS; it is about how healthcare is practised everywhere. However, being the good old NHS, we have carried out endless academic studies on this. The Hogan and Black analysis shows that, at that time, 4% of hospital deaths had had a 50% or more chance of being preventable. If we do the maths, that works out at about 150 preventable deaths every single week—the equivalent of an aircraft falling out of the sky every single week.

Then I met a group of people who persuaded me that this issue should be my main focus as Health Secretary. I met Scott and Sue Morrish, a young couple from Devon who lost their son Sam to sepsis when he was three because it was not picked up early enough; James Titcombe, who lost his son Joshua at Morecambe Bay when he was nine days old; Deb Hazeldine, who lost her mother in a horrible death at Mid Staffs; Martin Bromiley, who lost his wife Elaine because of a surgery error at a hospital in Milton Keynes; and Melissa Mead, who lost her son William when he was just 12 months old—in December 2014, when I was Health Secretary—again because sepsis was not picked up.

Those people all did something that most of us would never do. Most of us, when we have a tragedy in our lives, want to close the chapter and move on, but they chose to relive their tragedy every single day because they wanted to tell their story and make the NHS change so that other families did not go through what they had been through. They paid a terrible price for doing that. James Titcombe had to write more than 400 emails over several years before we were prepared to admit why Joshua died. Martin Bromiley sacrifices 40% of his salary as an airline pilot so that he can go round the NHS talking in hospitals free of charge about what happened to Elaine. Melissa Mead carries William’s teddy everywhere. She goes into TV studios to try to alert people to the dangers of sepsis, and she brought it to her first meeting with me. Inside that teddy were William’s ashes. That is a meeting I will never forget as a Minister.

We must not let this blind us to the fact that the vast majority of NHS care is absolutely brilliant. I have three beautiful healthy children, thanks to the NHS. About a year before I was Health Secretary, I was in the Cabinet and I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my head. A local anaesthetic was administered, and the surgeon had his scalpel out. The head nurse looked at me and said, “By the way, Mr Hunt, what is it you do for a living?” This was a time of austerity and cuts, and I froze before giving the answer to that question. But thanks to substantial additional funding by the last Labour Government and by this Government, the NHS has improved dramatically, and we now have record survival rates for every major disease category.