One year on since the Francis enquiry what has the NHS learned?

7th February 2014 Clinical Negligence

This week marks a year since the watershed Francis enquiry into NHS standards which followed the shocking revelation that hundreds of patients had died needlessly at Stafford Hospital.

The report which followed the enquiry made 290 recommendations for providers of healthcare, regulators and the government and concluded that a change of culture in the NHS was needed to raise safety levels and put patients first.

A year is not a long time to revolutionise such a huge, historic and complex organisation. However as a solicitor specialising in medical negligence at JMW who has represented countless patients and families affected by poor care I would hope to see some progress and that the wheels off change have begun to turn.

There was welcome news, therefore, from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt this week who has been quoted as saying that the NHS in England has 'changed for the better' (BBC). Mr Hunt says that the changes brought in since the Francis enquiry, including a new inspection regime and tougher action for hospitals that are failing, have led to a 'real shift in priorities.

According to the BBC, other changes include:

  • More nurses
  • A stronger voice for patients
  • Compassionate care replacing a tick box culture
  • Fourteen hospitals placed into special measures
  • New post of chief inspector of hospitals created
  • Overhaul of Care Quality Commission inspections
  • Hospitals forced to publish ward staffing levels from April and whether they meet recommended numbers

These are all vitally important changes but what will be key is ensuring they filter down into the everyday workings of hospitals and GP surgeries up and down the country. Some of the patients the team at JMW are representing have reported that staffing levels negatively impacted on their care and that their concerns about their, or a loved one's, condition were not heeded - with sometimes tragic consequences. In my experience training, internal awareness raising campaigns and effective governance will all be vital to ensuring those particular changes are realised.

The other steps, such as overhauling CQC inspections, are positive and if executed effectively offer a real opportunity to ensure standards improve at those hospitals with consistently poor patient safety records. However those that have been placed in special measures need consistently good support from the government to turn things around.

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Eddie Jones is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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