“Whole-stay doctor” for patients in hospital

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for a greater ‘continuity of care’ in hospitals, with all patients having a “whole-stay doctor”.  

Ahead of a speech on ‘patients as people’ at the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trusts, health secretary Jeremy Hunt stressed the importance of improving the continuity of care offered in hospitals by ensuring all patients had a named “whole-stay doctor”.

Hunt was restating one of the previous government’s recommendations, in response to the Francis inquiry, for all hospital patients be given a named, “whole-stay doctor” to increase the continuity of the care during their stay and “unblock bureaucracy”.

“There’s a lot of symbolism in putting names above beds,” said Hunt. “It tells patients there is someone where the buck stops and who they can contact if they are not happy.”

As part of the “whole-stay doctor” approach, patients should be discharged with a “proper handover to a named, accountable GP”, explained Hunt. He has also requested that Care Quality Commission inspectors begin checking that each patient had a named doctor listed above their bed during their hospital inspections.

The “whole-stay doctor” forms part of the government’s wider plans to tackle disjointed care and promote what it calls the ‘whole patient’ approach, shifting the NHS away from a “culture of volume and targets” towards one of a “continuity of care”.

Other changes will include the implementation of activity-based payment systems and tariff reform. The government is also exploring a more flexible approach to working times, preventing doctors having to ‘clock off’ to avoid breaching the European Working Time Directive despite their patient still requiring care.

The ‘whole patient’ approach and associated reforms have been broadly welcomed by some members of the healthcare industry, with Norman Williams, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, applauding the government’s “determination to bring back a more streamlined and compassionate approach to care”.   

Paul Flynn, the chair of the British Medical Association consultant’s committee, suggested that while “work patterns should promote and support continuity of patient care”, it was vital “that working patterns also safeguard the need for a healthy and productive work-life balance for doctors, as that is also crucial to protecting patient safety and care.”