Mr Hunt used a speech yesterday to admit many of the care failures at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust would not have happened had patients been listened to.
Asked how he would make sure patient voice was heard in future, Mr Hunt told delegates he could not say too much about it now but the “the response we make to Francis report will be how we put patient voice at the heart” of the NHS.
Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry chair Robert Francis QC’s report is due to be published next week. Mr Francis has previously said he will make recommendations on how to “embed” patient voice in the system.
Mr Hunt’s comments, at a National Voices conference in London, suggest the government already has plans to go further than the introduction of the “Friends and Family” test to address this issue.
During the speech, which set out Mr Hunt’s thinking in relation to Francis, he paid tribute to the “leadership” of NHS Commissioning Board and NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson who is expected to be severely criticised in the report.
Admitting his department was “very much preoccupied” with the Francis report, he said what happened at the trust was “fundamentally a question of culture” and cultural problems could not be solved by “top down edicts”.
He said: “If you can’t mandate compassion, you can only unlock it, then we need to be honest with professionals, the brilliant doctors, nurses and healthcare professions that we have a busier service… we therefore need to think about how we stay true to those values in a much busier service.”
Mr Hunt called for a culture of “zero harm”, a concept argued for by the patient group Cure the NHS in its evidence to the inquiry.
He also appeared to be sympathetic towards the argument made by some witnesses to the inquiry that healthcare regulation should not be split between separate quality and economic regulators, as it is through the Care Quality Commission and Monitor.
He said he had been considering “the regulatory complexity that exists with different regulators with different responsibilities”.
However, he added: “I don’t want to have another huge upheaval but I want to look at what we can do to streamline accountability when things go wrong.”
Mr Hunt’s comments were echoed by Sir David who also spoke at the conference.
Sir David said the commissioning board wanted to give patients “more clout” and “legitimacy” at the “top tables in the NHS”.
He described the Friends and Family test as “only the beginning” of real time patient feedback and also revealed he had recently been diagnosed with diabetes and would become a “patient leader” himself.
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