Jeremy Hunt attacks 'complacent' hospitals

nurses Mr Hunt said his words were aimed at the bulk of hospitals that were not excellent and not poor

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Too many hospitals are coasting along, settling for meeting minimum standards, according to the health secretary.

In a speech on Friday, Jeremy Hunt will attack a culture of "complacency" and "low aspirations", which he believes is holding the NHS in England back.

He is expected to say while there is a concerted effort to tackle failing hospitals, there should also be a focus on "mediocrity".

Labour's Andy Burnham blamed ministers for the failings in front line care.

Mr Hunt's comments come a month after the problems at Stafford Hospital were laid bare.

The final report of the public inquiry into the scandal, published at the start of February, attacked the way the system protected corporate self-interest rather than putting patients first.

The warnings have already led to investigations into 14 hospital trusts with high death rates.

But Mr Hunt, in a speech to the Nuffield Trust think-tank in Dorking, Surrey, will say part of the challenge is tackling "mediocrity and low expectations before they turn into failure and tragedy".

So how many hospitals are mediocre?

The health secretary will make it clear in his speech that he is not saying the vast majority are mediocre, but according to sources his words are aimed at a significant bulk of those plodding along in the middle.

It is commonly said about a 10th of hospital trusts are failing, although double that are actually not meeting all the essential standards set out by the Care Quality Commission.

That leaves about 80% of trusts that are doing what they should. Some of these will be excellent - perhaps about 10-15% - and some will be striving to become excellent - perhaps a similar number. That leaves close to half that could be said to be stuck in the middle, coasting along.


"Coasting can kill. Not straight away, but over time as complacency sets in, organisations look inwards, standards drop and then suddenly something gives," he will say.

"I would never describe the majority of hospitals or wards in the NHS as mediocre - but I do believe our system fails to challenge low aspirations in too many parts of the system.

"Imagine for a moment that the main objective for our Olympic athletes was not to win but to 'not come last'. How many gold medals would we have won then?

"It sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But today I want to suggest that too much of the NHS is focused on doing just that.

"Not on achieving world class levels of excellence - the gold medals of healthcare - but meeting minimum standards, the equivalent of 'not coming last'."

Sources said Mr Hunt's words were aimed not at those that are failing minimum standards or waiting time targets, but the bulk in the middle that were not excellent and not poor.

Family test

He is expected to single out Walsall Manor, a hospital in the West Midlands, which has turned itself around after faring badly in the national patients' survey two years ago. The hospital decided to carry out one-to-one interviews with 100 patients to find out what they thought of their care and the staff that looked after them.

On the Today programme, Richard Kirby, chief executive of Walsall NHS Healthcare Trust, said this led to investment in specific areas flagged up by patients and a better understanding of what patients want. The Trust has also introduced a friends and family test.

"Every patient who is admitted to our hospital is asked when leaving if they would recommend us to friends and family and scores are shared with all of our teams week in, week out.

Jo Webber from the NHS Confederation: ''People come to do the best they possibly can for patients''

"We get critical and positive responses. It gives us a simple, clear way of understanding how we are doing."

Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, said the health secretary was right to draw attention to the issue.

"There is a malaise in the NHS which has allowed mediocrity to become commonplace," she said.

"We hear from patients every day who are not happy with their care. I am not talking about the really bad, just those that are not putting patients first."


But shadow health secretary Mr Burnham said it was "no good for ministers to blame hospitals and staff when it is they who have thrown the whole system into chaos with a huge re-organisation, which has siphoned £3bn out of front line care.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham: "Coasting is the last thing hospitals are doing - they are working flat out."

"Hospitals across England are on a knife-edge and they need a government that provides support rather than points the finger," he said.

Royal College of Nursing director general Peter Carter said: "From one perspective I absolutely agree with him, of course we don't want mediocrity.

"But to make sure that does not happen we need to invest in staff. When we won one gold medal in the 1996 Olympics we started investing in our athletes, rowers and cyclists.

"To achieve gold medal standards in the NHS we need to do the same. It requires proper leadership, time to train and appropriate pay."

Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said there was room for improvement, adding hospitals needed to be more open and transparent.

"I believe that there is a crucial opportunity to make this culture change happen. We cannot miss this chance to deliver better care."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Mr Hunt If you think Hospitals are complacent. I persoanlly think you are TOTALLY INCOMPETENT!

    It is through TOTALLY INCOMPETENT people like you that the NHS is in the state that it is in today.
    Too many Pen Pushers, Managers, CEO's paid phenomenally ridiculous salaries to sit on thier Butt's dooing nothing while the most important people Doctor's Nurses are having to cut back on everything!

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    Criticism of Hunt is unfair he is no different to the criteria required for all ministers both in this government and previous ones:-

    1) Toe the party line
    2) Have no relevant experience whatsoever
    3) Move on before you become accountable for your failures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    In light of the Mid Staffs Scandal and the continued tenure of David Nicholson the Govt is really not in any postition to complain of complacency in rrelation to standards of healthcare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    Really despairs of these negative comments about managers. Nurses are also managers in many NHS organisations and work tirelessly to ensure care is safe and of a high quality. The Govt are naive and need to accept responsibility and accountability for the significant reduction in funding that has an impact on front line staff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    In my experience, when things go wrong, hospitals adopt a policy of defending themselves and fobbing off complainers rather than resolving problems.


    Simply because it is usually cheaper than putting mistakes right.

    This of course leads to complacency. Medical staff don't try to put mistakes right - it's cheaper and easier to get PALS to deal with the patient and shut him up.

    Not good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    Anybody who believes in homeopathy (despite all the evidence that it only ever has a placebo effect) can't be trusted to look after a goldfish, let alone a Health Service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    I agree that Hunt should go. Does he really think that deeply critisising NHS staff will positively motivate them? Idiot! Can't trust him either as he tried to bring in privatisation via the back door this week but fortunately it was twigged! The trouble is that I have no faith in Labour either after the stupid targets they set when they were in government which unfocused NHS Managers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    Some things are worth fighting for, our healthcare is definitely one of them.

    We should be at war with whoever wants to sell our health down the river in the name of naked greed and private profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    For once I agree with Hunt. My son's fiancee's mother was recently (3 weeks ago) in Rotherham Hospital. an elderly patient on her ward needed the loo and despite several calls to the nurses no one came. Obvious result.

    If the targets are only just being met, they are mediocre and need improving. despite union comments more less well paid staff on wards must improve general care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    The NHS is generally a good, value for money service. Privatisation will not make it cheaper or better (it will probably be more expensive and very inefficient and fragmented) but will just siphon off public funds into private health company profits. This is what Jeremy Hunt is trying to arrange for his friends running private health companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    314.The Bloke
    ..that 'showcasing' was a sick joke, given that it was in the wake of the MStaffs catastrophe.
    OK, have a read of this then.

    Try reading it from an objective perspective without those blue tinted spectacles on and you might learn something, but somehow I doubt it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    331.JW of UK
    What a terrible thing to suggest that the silver and bronze medalists aspired only "to not come last" because they did not win gold.
    Your views on the NHS are about as valid as your views on the non-gold Olympians.
    He didn't suggest that. Your own view might be more valid if you bothered reading properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    A reminder to everyone about privatisation.
    The last Tory government systematically sold off our utility infrastructure and appeared to be a jolly good idea at the time (shares & profits for everyone)
    Just look at the mess now, foreign companies owning our utilities, and expensive tariffs no one can understand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.


    The choice of two bad options is not a choice that is given freely it is a choice that is forced...

    I choose not to be forced into a bad decision whether it is the lesser of a bad decision or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    The NHS is top heavy, simple as. There has been a gradual increase in god awful managers year after year, most hospital managers are unemployeable anywhere else and yet they end up managing a service thats supposed to save lives or at least improve them. The soooner these incompetents are removed and replaced with experienced nurses, preferably without a silly degree, the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    You may have noticed that the chief instigator who fully implemented Maggie's policies of free market into the NHS when he took over from Major maybe returning for a comeback! He distanced himself from the labour party, he is now making millions for himself &JP Morgan. He has made labour a laughing stock by making sure private companies benefitted at the expense of the taxpayer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    I've just come out of Wythenshawe hospital having had most of a lung removed. The care I have received was outstanding and this hospital and the Lung ward in particular should be used as the model for the minimum care in any hospital in the country.
    If they can do it, so can any other hospital. With the right management of course. And if they are not up to it then sack them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Dear BBC I think you've got a few spelling mistakes in your above headline - I do believe it should read:-

    Too many MPs are coasting along, settling for meeting minimum standards, according to the average person.

    Many thanks
    Your average person

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    Re Walsall Manor: My experience of doing a reasonably controlled survey in a maternity ward was that the patients were highly satisfied but the staff were concerned about standards. So I would suggest both be confidentially surveyed.

    In any case find a way of getting 'visitor' concerns as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    The NHS is in meltdown; headed by those who don't know a bandage from a stetascope, but who do know how to cut care, turn a blind eye and reduce costs.
    Whilst this is going on a pointless cross London cycle route is in the pipeline costing £1 Billion!!! - Nice to know where Tory priorities lie!


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