DH takes steps to improve patient safety

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Jeremy Hunt - Web Hospital ratings and a “duty of candour” for the NHS are among the measures announced by the Department of Health in its response to the Francis report.

A new Chief Inspector of Hospitals will be appointed to manage the appraisal of all hospitals, as well as individual hospital departments.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the new measures would help to create a “zero harm” culture in the NHS, ensuring that the Mid Staffs tragedy was not repeated in other Foundation Trusts.

However, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) drew attention to the dangers of systematic understaffing of hospitals.

All NHS staff will have a statutory duty to be honest about mistakes, and managers who fail in that duty will be barred from management roles – though the DH will not make it a criminal offence to cover up errors (as Francis recommended).

Hunt argued that it was necessary to strike a balance between ensuring “candour” and not creating a “culture of fear”. However, he claimed, the new review of patient safety would mean “a radical overhaul” focused on “high quality care and compassion”.

A code of conduct and minimum training standards for healthcare assistants will be developed, and nurses will have to work for a year as healthcare assistants before being funded for an NHS nursing degree.

In accordance with recent recommendations from the Nuffield Trust, a ratings system will be developed to assess hospital departments, with each hospital receiving an overall rating of ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requiring improvement’ or ‘poor’.

Peter Carter, General Secretary of the RCN, warned that understaffing was a fundamental issue that the review did not address.

However, Mike Farrar, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, said the DH had struck “the right balance between external assurance measures and internal changes focused on transforming the NHS culture.”