By Vivienne Russell | 6 February 2013
Any NHS trust board that presides over serious care failings could be suspended, Prime Minister David Cameron announced as he responded to the findings of the public inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
Currently, only financial difficulties can trigger the suspension of a trust board. But in his statement to MPs Cameron said that an overwhelming focus on ‘finance and figures’ had detracted from good patient care at Stafford Hospital. This had been a problem, specifically, at Mid Staffs, but also affected the wider NHS.
The prime minister offered an apology to the families of all people who suffered while patients at Stafford Hospital. He said the neglect and mistreatment highlighted by Robert Francis QC, who chaired the inquiry, was ‘truly dreadful’ and clinicians and managers at the trust had presided over a ‘despicable catalogue’ of failures.
Cameron also announced that he had asked the Care Quality Commission to establish a new post of chief inspector of hospitals to assure the public about which hospitals were succeeding and which weren’t.
‘We need a hospital inspection regime that doesn’t just look at numerical targets but examines the quality of care and makes an open, public and explicit judgement,’ he said, adding that the new chief inspector would take personal responsibility for this task.
The prime minister revealed that he had also asked NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh to conduct an immediate investigation into care standards at hospitals with the highest mortality rates. Anne Clywd, Labour MP for Cynon Valley, and Tricia Hart, chief executive of South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, are to advise on how hospitals in the NHS should handle complaints.
David Behan, chief executive of the CQC, said the Francis report was ‘defining’ for everyone involved in health care.
He said: ‘The appointment of a chief inspector of hospitals will enable us to put a sharper focus on hospital care – really getting to grips with what’s most important to patients and their families. As the prime minister said, this will help to ensure hospitals are clean, safe and caring.’
Behan added that the CQC would continue to operate as a single, unified regulator across health and social care, and would also consider creating a chief inspector for social care post.
Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the publication of the report marked a ‘sad and shameful day’ for the health service.
‘This is a hard hitting but fair analysis of what happened in Mid Staffordshire and that is exactly what we needed. Crucially, Francis has offered us a forensic ward-to-Whitehall assessment of one of the biggest failings in the NHS,’ he said, urging everyone in the health service to consider the inquiry’s recommendations and how they could be taken forward.
At the Royal College of Nursing, general secretary Peter Carter said the union was ‘acutely aware’ of the lessons it needed to learn from the way it supported members working at the trust.
‘Although we have already put in place numerous measures, we will look at the report in depth to see what other steps we can take to improve our effectiveness,’ he said.
‘Appalling care cannot be tolerated and everything should be done to ensure that it does not happen again.’
The British Medical Association said there was an urgent need to develop a new culture in the NHS. BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said the scale of care failings set out by the inquiry was profoundly disturbing.
‘Unless and until medical staff and management jointly promote the ethos that raising concerns is not only acceptable but a positive thing, the shadow of Mid Staffs will put us all into darkness… We must no longer accept the attitude that it is someone else’s job to worry about.
‘A system obsessed with top-down targets leads to extreme pressure and a bullying culture, and there is a risk that basic clinical care is lost sight of in the race to meet deadlines. There are other ways to raise performance levels, including a focus on clinical leadership and partnership to help foster a system-wide approach.’