Ministers have ordered an annual review of the National Health Service after it was revealed poor standards of care lead to 12,000 early deaths a year. The figures came after the NHS regulator, the Health Ombudsman, was described as “inadequate” and accused of “failing patients” after a review into 150 cases it investigated.
In an interview in the Sunday Telegraph the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans for the annual review of 2000 deaths in an effort to drive up standards. He said: “In the 1970s there were about 2000 deaths a year from airline crashes, and the industry realised they would go out of business if people became too scared to fly.
“Now the global figure is around 500, even though there is nine times as much air travel… Why hasn’t the health service adopted the kinds of standards we now take for granted in the airline and nuclear industry?”
On Wednesday Sir Robert Francis, will lay a damming report before parliament on how the NHS treats doctors who raise safety concerns. The report took two months longer than expected as Francis was deluged with 18,000 responses from NHS whistleblowers.
He is seen as a trusted figure amongst the medical profession because he led the major review into Mid Staffs last year which uncovered neglect and mistreatment of patients at the NHS Trust between 2005 and 2009.
Hunt is expected to respond to the latest Francis report by announcing a package of measures including the annual review. He said: “On high death rates, failing hospitals and whistleblowing, we are calling time on the cover-up culture and ushering in a new era of transparency.”
Plans to look more closely at how NHS mistakes are dealt with is likely to be widely welcomed. Roy Lilley, a former NHS trust chairman, said he had long held the view that the NHS complaints procedures were unsatisfactory.
“The trust is absolutely the wrong person to investigate this because the trust is investigating the trust, it should be done independently and outside the purview of that organisation,” he said.
“I don’t think the numbers are sufficiently robust, but I do think that they confirm the concerns that a lot of people have about how the NHS deals with complaints.”
The NHS is one of the worlds biggest employers with 1.7 milion staff, leading to suggestions it is too big to ever work effectively. However, there is little apetite in Britain for any widespread improvements to the service.