Patient safety within the NHS has long been an issue high on the political agenda. Following the government’s recent announcement to cut NHS funding, together with areas of the NHS in England recently being placed into special measures, patient safety is becoming even more critical than ever.
At the NHS Confederation conference in Liverpool, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt emphasised the need for increased patient safety standards within the NHS, commenting that he wanted “Mid Staffs to be a moment of change for us where we resolve to become the safest healthcare system anywhere in the world.”
Mr Hunt and the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, both spoke of the need for NHS Trusts to make better use of resources to facilitate the cuts to NHS spending required. Procurement costs and agency staff were singled out as areas for savings to be made. The message to NHS chiefs was clear- there is no extra money available and better use of NHS resources is the way forward.
Mr Hunt was keen to emphasise that improving patient safety would also lead to efficiency savings; commenting that “we are going to reap the benefits not just in terms of patient care but the huge benefits in terms of efficiency”.
Mr Hunt’s comments need to be considered in light of the recent confirmation by The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) watchdog, that it has abandoned the work it had been doing in relation to patient to staff ratios to ensure patient safety. The work had initially been started following the Mid Staffs investigation and recommendations made by Sir Robert Francis QC, whose official report concluded that NHS understaffing had significantly contributed to the scandal.
The announcement has drawn much criticism, not least from Sir Francis himself who stated “I am surprised and concerned by this news”. Sir Francis expressed reservations that NHS England will now continue this work, claiming that NICE are much better placed to devise safe staffing ratios than NHS England, not least because they are an independent body.
Whether NHS England will introduce lower standards in relation to nurse to patient ratios remains to be seen. The unanswered question remains, will cuts to NHS funding allow Trusts to tackle failing services and focus on patient safety going forwards?