The Prime Minister apologised to the relatives of those affected “on behalf of the Government, and indeed the country”, before setting out a vision for how the nursing profession must change.
Back in December, the Government announced plans to introduce perfomance-related pay in schools, provoking a fierce backlash from teachers’ unions.
But speaking in the Commons yesterday, Mr Cameron made clear he believes the scheme must now be extended across the NHS, adding that training and leadership also need to improve.
“There are some simple but quite profound things that need to happen in our NHS and in our hospitals,” the Prime Minister said. “Nurses should be hired and promoted on the basis of having compassion as a vocation, not just academic qualifications.
“Another issue is whether pay should be linked to quality of care, rather than just to time served at a hospital. I favour this approach.”
Opposition leader Ed Miliband offered his own apology for the failings at the hospital, which developed under the last Labour Government.
“The NHS represents the best values of this country,” the Doncaster North MP said. “What happened at Stafford was an appalling betrayal of those values.”
In a long and sombre debate notable for the absence of any political point-scoring, the theme of compassion within the NHS surfaced time and again.
Alan Johnson, the Hull MP who was Labour’s Health Secretary between 2007-2009 – when some of the worst abuses took place – said: “Our biggest challenge is to make quality of care the central organising principle of the NHS.”
Admitting he was “not sure” Labour had been “particularly successful” at pursuing this goal, he warned the Prime Minister there would be knock-on effects of putting care ahead of financial and performance targets.
“If nurses and GPs and other doctors are to spend more time with patients and focus on care, there will be ramifications for other ways in which we measure how the health service is working,” he said.