Following the findings of the Francis enquiry into the appalling failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust and the unnecessary loss of life arising from poor standards of care, one of the first steps taken by the Government was to introduce “special measures” for underperforming health trusts, similar to the regime previously introduced in to the education system for under performing schools.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) was tasked with carrying out inspections and implementing the process, with 11 Trusts being placed in special measures a year ago and six more subsequently failing to reach required standards. Last week 5 of the original 11 hospitals have or will be exiting the special measures scheme, having improved sufficiently to do so. Since the original timeframe for achieving improvement was 12 months, whether the fact that more than half of the Trusts remain in special measures a year after entering the process can be regarded as a sign of success is debatable.
Prof Sir Mike Richards, CQC Chief Inspector of Hospitals, considers the progress to be acceptable and has extended the timeframe for compliance by the remaining Trusts by a further 6 months “We have achieved a great deal in the last twelve months” he said.
The difficulty of bringing about change in an organisation as large and complex as the NHS is not to be underestimated. Rob Webster, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospital trusts, said: “Changing the culture in an organisation – and the outcomes it delivers – is never easy. The staff and the leadership teams at each of these organisations should be proud of the progress they have made over the past 12 months in improving patient care.”
And ultimately improving patient care has to be the goal common to all involved in the process. The willingness of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to maintain pressure for change and to treat the Stafford Hospital scandal as a “wake-up call” for the NHS will be tested in the run up to an election.
Those who suffer the fall out from failings in patient safety must hope that he will continue the crusade. As he stated last week, “Thanks to a sharp focus on admitting problems rather than burying heads in the sand, some of these hospitals have tackled their deep-rooted failings for the first time and are on the road to recovery.” Patients hope for more and better.
If you have been affected by a patient safety issue and would like to talk about it, contact the experienced members of the Clarke Willmott clinical negligence team.