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Hunt urges NHS to tackle mediocrity

By Richard Johnstone | 8 March 2013

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will today hit out at ‘coasting’ NHS hospitals, warning that complacency and mediocre care can lead to increased fatalities.

In a speech to the Nuffield Health summit this afternoon, Hunt will say the chief lesson from the failures at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust is the need to understand why hospitals fail in the first place. This means tackling mediocrity and low expectations ‘before they turn into failure and tragedy’.

The Mid-Staffordshire public inquiry, chaired by Robert Francis and published in February, found that, between January 2005 and March 2009, patients at the trust’s Stafford Hospital were routinely neglected and had their most basic care needs overlooked.

Hunt is expected to say ‘coasting can kill’ in the NHS if hospitals are not required to improve. ‘Not straight away, but over time as complacency sets in, organisations look inwards, standards drop and then suddenly, something gives.’

Ending such complacency must form an essential part of the health service’s response to the Francis report, the health secretary will add.

Although he ‘would never describe the majority of hospitals or wards in the NHS as mediocre’, Hunt will say: ‘I do believe our system fails to challenge low aspirations in too many parts of the system.

‘This directly links to the failures of patient safety and compassionate care that we are now having to address.’

There are ‘plenty’ of hospitals that are meeting the minimum care standards set by the Care Quality Commission, but not improving. ‘Hospitals must not be allowed to cruise along, hitting the targets but missing the point.’

The ‘friends and family’ test being introduced to judge the quality of hospitals from April will be part of the required change, and a culture of ‘zero harm’ will help end the idea that ‘not bad’ is good enough, he will say. ‘Not if we want the NHS to be the best in the world.  Not if we want everyone to have access to the best healthcare. Not if we are to meet the challenges of increasing expectation alongside increasing age.’

Ahead of the speech, the Royal College of Nursing said frontline staff want to work in excellent hospitals, but needed the proper support to do so.

RCN general secretary Peter Carter said nurses agree all hospitals should be aiming for excellence, but added that this requires both investment and leadership.

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