Jeremy Hunt has said he wants to eliminate “unsafe care” in the NHS, which needlessly costs lives and money.
In his speech to the Conservative Party conference this afternoon, the health secretary flagged up the 200 avoidable deaths that happen in hospitals across the country every week.
“That’s like a plane crash a week because of mistakes we shouldn’t be making,” he told the conference.
Part of the reason was the culture in hospitals prevented nurses and doctors from speaking out about poor care, he added.
“Too many worry that if they own up to making a mistake or blow the whistle on poor care they will be fired – as they sometimes are,” he said.
“As a result, not only do we cause patients and families untold anguish as they search for the truth, we lose the chance to learn from those mistakes,” said Mr Hunt.
“In our hospitals we need an honesty culture not a blame culture”
He called for an “honesty culture” in hospitals instead of a “blame culture”.
From May next year, avoidable death rates for each hospital will be published on the MyNHS website alongside other performance data, including the quality of mental health care, he told delegates.
Mr Hunt said this was not about “naming and shaming”, as there were no sanctions or punishments for those with low scores “just the opportunity to improve”.
Meanwhile, he challenged people who said there was not enough money to deliver the best care and called on the NHS to “eliminate the waste from unsafe care”.
“It isn’t a choice between standards or money,” he said. “If someone catches MRSA in hospital, they stay in hospital for longer, costing the NHS more money. Safer care costs less, not more.”
Mr Hunt said he believed the effort to learn lessons from poor care and improve it “has never been higher”.
In addition, he defended the decision to get tough on hospitals who failed to meet standards by putting them into special measures.
“People said no one would want to work at those hospitals. That they would sink into a spiral of decline. That things would go from bad to worse,” he said.
“Instead, those trusts have changed their boards, recruited hundreds of doctors and nurses, and transformed the care they give,” he said.
“Those trusts [put in special measures] have changed their boards, recruited hundreds of doctors and nurses, and transformed the care they give”
Out of the 24 major hospitals put into special measures in the two years since the Francis report into failing at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, he noted that nine had already come out.
Mr Hunt urged the conference to “recognise the brilliant work of the doctors and nurses” at those organisations “who have worked so hard to turn their trusts around”.
He also defended the government’s plans for a seven-day health service and denied claims that doctors and nurses could be made to work longer hours for less money.
“We want to support the many doctors who do work weekends with properly staffed shifts, safe working hours and seven-day diagnostic services so that patients are not put at risk,” he added.
“So I say to those people working very hard right now on the frontline, stand beside as we address this,” he said.
However, the speech (see PDF attached, top-right) did not contain any major new policy announcements, and there was no direct mention of the current staff shortages or budget deficits facing trusts and the wider NHS.
Rippon urges awareness of dementia needs
The health section of the conference also included a speech by former BBC newsreader Angela Rippon, who is a supporter of the Alzheimer’s Society.
She told delegates about the charity’s “dementia friends” awareness initiative and highlighted work done by Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.
Most notably the conference watched part of the trust’s powerful video “Barbara’s story” – a fictional account of the experiences of a patient with dementia.