The Telegraph By Laura Donnelly and Patrick Sawer 08 Feb 2015
Jeremy Hunt has vowed to change the NHS culture, with a national review to prevent needless deaths and new safeguards for staff who blow the whistle on poor care
In an interview with The Telegraph, Jeremy Hunt unveiled plans to drive down mortality rates, by annually reviewing a sample of 2,000 deaths at hospitals across the country.
He also pledged action to support whistleblowers who speak out about poor care, and said the policies would be his defining moment as Health Secretary, and his most important legacy.
On Wednesday, Sir Robert Francis, who led the public inquiry into the Mid Staffs scandal, will publish a report which lays bare the devastating treatment of NHS doctors and nurses who tried to warn of unsafe care.
Mr Hunt will respond with a package of reforms to improve safety in hospitals, starting with the national review of 2,000 deaths, to establish just how many lives might have been saved with the right care.
He said latest data from a smaller study suggests around 12,000 deaths a year in NHS hospitals are being caused by medical errors and failures to monitor patients properly.
The annual review will be used to monitor NHS performance, and hospitals will be assigned estimates of how many deaths might have been avoided, given their safety record.
Mr Hunt said the reforms were designed to change the culture of the health service, and learn from the airline and nuclear industries, which have radically improved their safety record.
He said: “This policy is the most profound change to happen while I am Health Secretary. It is about changing behaviour and the way everyone works in the NHS.”
Mr Hunt said the NHS needed to learn from other industries, with rigorous protocols to ensure that safety risks were identified and not tolerated.
“In the 1970s there were about 2,000 deaths a year from airline crashes, and the industry realised that they would go out of business if people became too scared to fly,” he said.
“Now the global figure is around 500, even though there is nine times as much air travel.”
He said the key to the change had been encouraging pilots to speak out about any possible threat to safety.
The Health Secretary said the NHS needed to urgently introduce the same protocols, saying: “This is the biggest scandal in global healthcare. Why hasn’t the health service adopted the kinds of standards we now take for granted in the airline and nuclear industry?”
He said the issue was a problem across the world, with Britain and the United States the only countries introducing specific programmes designed to reduce avoidable deaths.
The first data will be produced next year, and every hospital chairman will be required to write to the Health Secretary annually explaining their plans to eradicate avoidable deaths.
The reforms follow a long campaign by The Sunday Telegraph, Heal Our Hospitals, which in 2009 called for a public inquiry into Mid Staffs and a review of NHS targets – both of which were introduced by the Coalition – and has continued to call for more comprehensive information about hospital death rates.
On Saturday a highly critical review of NHS investigations into avoidable deaths found that one in three probes are inadequate.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman warned that bereaved families who had lost loved ones as a result of poor care were being let down again by “appalling” failures to investigate the deaths.
In one case, a one-day-old baby, identified only as Baby F, was left with permanent brain damage because two doctors and a nurse made “serious mistakes” during blood transfusions.
On Wednesday, Sir Robert Francis will publish a damning report examining the treatment of doctors and nurses who tried to blow the whistle on poor care.
The independent review was commissioned by Mr Hunt amid concerns that poor care at Mid Staffs and other failing hospitals, went undetected for years because warnings from staff about poor care were suppressed.
It has taken two months longer than was scheduled, after Sir Robert was deluged by concerns from NHS whistleblowers telling how they had lost their livelihood after speaking out, with more than 18,000 responses in total.
Eighteen months ago, in the wake of the inquiry into Mid Staffs, 11 hospitals were placed on a new “special measures” regime amid concerns that poor care was fuelling their death rates.
They were among 14 which were probed when mortality rates showed 13,000 more deaths than would have been expected over seven years.
Today independent analysis discloses the programme has made significant progress, with up to 450 lives saved in just one year.
Mr Hunt said a two-pronged strategy would force hospital boards to have a “laser-like focus” on eradicating avoidable deaths while a new policy on whistleblowing would give more support to NHS staff who speak out about poor care.
“On high death rates, failing hospitals and whistleblowing, we are calling time on the cover-up culture, and ushering in a new era of transparency,” he said.
The trusts were given extra leadership support, and in some cases “buddied” with more successful organisations.
Reports published today show that the measures were introduced, the 11 trusts have hired an extra 1,800 nurses and cleared out more than 120 senior managers from their boards.
Mr Hunt said: “All of those hospitals had high death rates for many years under the last Labour Government, but warnings were ignored and patient safety issues left to fester.”
“Today’s report shows that facing up to these failures has literally saved lives. Our tough turnaround regime means that hundreds of thousands of people across the country now have better, safer local hospitals.”
Between them the hospitals had 1,344 more deaths than would have been expected during 2012/13, when compared with average hospitals treating similar patients.
New independent analysis shows a significant fall in the death rates since.
In 2013/14, there were 897 more deaths than would have been expected if death rates were in line with the average – a reduction of 447 from the previous year.
Prof Sir Brian Jarman of Imperial College London, the statistician, who provided the analysis said it was impossible to prove whether each case reflected a saved life – as the statistics do not scrutinise individual cases, but said the trend was “very encouraging”.
Overall, mortality rates at the trusts fell by almost 10 per cent in 2013/14, compared to a national fall of 3.3 per cent nationally, healthcare analysts Dr Foster found.
Death rates fell at eight of the trusts, remained similar at two of them, but worsened at Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
Among the 11, the best mortality rates were at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals trust and United Lincolnshire Hospitals trust, which now have death rates lower than the national average.
The worst were at Medway NHS Foundation trust – where death rates are 20 per cent higher than average, with 185 more deaths in the year than would have been expected.
Latest figures show almost a doubling in clinical negligence claims in the last four years, with 11,945 cases reported in 2013/14, and more than £15bn now put aside to deal with claims.
NHS safety reports have identified cases in which a woman was left infertile, after her fallopian tube was removed instead of her appendix, and another in which the wrong toes were amputated.
* The number of patients waiting longer than six weeks for cancer tests has risen by two thirds in the last year, with a five-fold increase in long waits since 2010. More than 11,000 patients waited longer than six weeks for bowel, stomach, ovarian, brain and other key cancer tests in December – a 66 per cent rise in one year. The figures highlighted by Labour also show a trebling in the numbers waiting at least six weeks for bowel cancer tests in the last year, with 2,673 such waits in December. Andy Burnham, shadow Health Secretary, said: “The last Labour government made huge progress on improving cancer care but that progress has stalled in recent years.”