Hunt - Watering down NHS reforms would betray patients

Heath Secretary Jeremy Hunt was warned yesterday that watering down recommendations for reforms of the NHS in the wake of a hospital scandal would be a “betrayal of patients”.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on a hospital visit

Ahead of the public inquiry into deaths at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, due to be published next Wednesday, Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) urged him to implement the report’s recommendations even if they are contrary to Government policy.

AvMA chief executive Peter Walsh said that anything less than full implementation of Robert Francis QC’s recommendation would lead to an “unsafe NHS”.

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In a letter to the Health Secretary, he said it would be a “disastrous and costly error of judgment”.

“This Government deserves credit for holding a public inquiry, when the previous Government had stubbornly refused to allow full and transparent scrutiny of the huge and tragic failure by the system and certain individuals with regards to Mid Staffs,” he wrote.

“However if the Government does not implement the recommendations from the inquiry in full the inquiry itself would not only be a massive waste of public money and wasted opportunity, but would be a betrayal of patients and the NHS.”

The inquiry was commissioned in 2010 after a separate highly critical report by the Healthcare Commission the previous year revealed a catalogue of failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and said “appalling standards” put patients at risk.

Between 400 and 1,200 more people died than would have been expected in a three-year period from 2005 to 2008, the commission said.

In February 2010, an independent inquiry into events at the trust found it had “routinely neglected patients”.

It recently emerged that the trust has paid out more than £1m in compensation to 120 victims of abuse or their families.

AvMA was one of the core participants in the £11m inquiry.

At a press conference in the City yesterday, Mr Walsh said: “Our prime hopes for this inquiry are not just to be reminded of tragic, scandalous treatment that many people received at that hospital, which is well documented.

“But while honouring those families who fought so hard for an inquiry and for justice, the real importance of this inquiry now is that lessons are learned for the whole NHS.”

He added: “It has become abundantly clear to us that many of the recommendations Francis is expected to make are contrary to the current direction of travel of the Department of Health and the Government.

“So this will pose a huge challenge to Jeremy Hunt. Will he be prepared to put patient safety before politics and political ideology and implement the recommendations in full?

“Or is he really prepared to add insult to injury to those families at Stafford who’ve lost loved ones, and indeed families up and down the country who have lost loved ones due to failures not just in standards of care but also in the system of regulation and monitoring of healthcare in this country?”

Reports suggest the Francis report will include recommendations that hospitals should face tough new scrutiny of their care by beefed-up teams of inspectors including doctors and nurses.

It has also been claimed it will call for hospitals that cover up mistakes by doctors and poor treatment of patients to face fines and possible closure.

In a separate development, a worker at Stafford Hospital has been suspended after taking photographs of patients in breach of staff guidelines.

The Mid-Staffordshire trust, which runs the hospital, refused to confirm reports that the member of staff used a mobile phone to take the pictures.

In a statement issued by the trust, its chief executive, Lyn Hill-Tout, said: “A member of staff at Stafford Hospital who photographed patients against trust policy has been suspended and an investigation is under way.

Meanwhile, a criminal inquiry is continuing after a four-month-old baby was found to have a dummy taped to his face at the hospital.

The infant, named in reports as Mason Fellows, was born 11 weeks premature and was taken to the hospital after suffering breathing difficulties.

Staffordshire Police said last week that officers from its Protecting Vulnerable People Department were in the early stages of an investigation into the baby’s treatment.