Norman Lamb MP writes…Francis, one year on

A year ago last week, Robert Francis QC published his report into the failings at Stafford Hospital, and set out his recommendations to ensure that those failings would not be repeated.  As a Liberal Democrat, I am committed to delivering better care, and ensuring that everyone is treated with dignity and respect when they come into contact with our health and care system. Today I want to report back myself on what we have achieved so far.

There are dedicated staff across the NHS and the care sector, who work tirelessly day after day to provide the best possible care for the ill and the vulnerable.  I know from my experience both as a Lib Dem minister and as a local MP the heroic efforts that many people make to keep our system working.

But there are also examples of poor care.  Sometimes this is the result of poor management or poor training. Sometimes organisations make the wrong judgements about how to achieve savings. Instead of finding ways to make the organisation more efficient, we have seen examples of hospital trusts cutting ward nursing staff.

Crucially, there is now a clear recognition that an obsessive focus by the last Labour Government on top down targets and directives distorted clinical judgements and created a culture which made it very difficult for staff to deliver the best possible care.

To make sure that scandals like that at Stafford Hospital cannot happen again, we need a complete culture-change within the NHS.  The NHS must remain focussed on providing good patient care as its first priority.

Nearly 1.6m patients have now been asked to personally review the care they received through the “Friends and Family” test recommended by Francis.  We currently have 165 nursing students piloting a new approach to training, working as healthcare assistants on the front line before they start their nurse training, to make sure that compassionate care always comes first.  We are also introducing a ‘Care Certificate’ so that healthcare assistants and social care support workers are receiving high quality training and consistent training and support they need to do their jobs.  And we have appointed three independent Chief Inspectors at the Care Quality Commission – with responsibility for Hospitals, Adult Social Care, and General Practice. These people, each experts in their field, will lead the charge for a renewed focus on the quality of care being received across the country.

A key part of Francis’ recommendations is the principle that when failings occur, they must not be swept under the carpet – whether by doctors or nurses, the service provider, by regulators, or by the Government of the day.

Earlier this week, the Government’s landmark Care Bill passed its Committee Stage in the House of Commons.  It commits the government in statute to introducing a “Duty of Candour” for organisations registering with the CQC, so they are required to own up when serious failings occur. This was a key commitment in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto. The Bill also introduces a new criminal offence for care providers that publish false or misleading information.  And it introduces a new more rigorous regime for CQC performance assessments of health and care providers, to form the basis of a clear and accessible ratings system so that the public have easy access to accurate information about providers.  At the same time, the Care Bill introduces a “Single Failure Regime” – to make sure that NHS hospitals providing inadequate care are treated as severely as those which are failing financially.

This is only a start – and throughout this year we will be making further progress.  I will be working hard in the coming months to make sure we deliver the changes that are needed to ensure better care.

* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015