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 384.

    The NHS is in meltdown...a London cycle route is in the pipeline costing £1 Billion!!! - Nice to know where Tory priorities lie!
    Err.. investing in infrastructure & promoting healthy activity?
    Not sure where you were going with this.... are you suggesting that all non-NHS expenditure be scrapped?

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    The NHS is not safe in Hunt's or the coalition's hands. They are trying to privatise as much of it as possible. This will not make the NHS better but will make their friends in the private healthcare business richer. That is what Hunt wants. Hunt thinks that the more he talks down the NHS, the more he will turn the public against the NHS, and the more of the NHS he will be able to privatise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    Put Hunt in a nurse's shoes for a day and see how he feels after that. None of this sugar-coated business with publicity photographs, full on blood, vomit, dementia patients, addicts, mentally ill patients, checking doctors haven't made drug errors and then getting a nurse's pay instead of his own at the end of the day. Things will soon change. Standards cost, cutting budgets won't help!

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    Re top rated 13
    "So we've got a minister who has never headed a major organisation before criticising its outlets for lack of care. And he has never worked a day in his life as a healthcare professional"

    Yeah, so the kind of person we really want is a leader with lots of NHS experience.
    Like....errrrr.....Sir David Nicholson!

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    The editors picks clearly show the BBC bias and the lack of intelligence at the editor level.
    They are really poor choices and pretty much against the grain of sentiment. The NHS is massively funded, it is also pathetically managed - the guy at the top couldn't run one hospital never mind the whole thing!
    BBC you are a mess as bad as the NHS. Sackings are required in both

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    Like in any job there are bad eggs, due to the nature of the NHS the effects of these bad eggs can be tragic. But what I don't understand is why no one is in prison for all these deaths due to neglect and incompetence, from the management to the nurses and doctors who had a hand in these deaths because at the end it is at the very least corporate manslaughter. there have to be consequences!

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    TB took us to war in Iraq, believes that we should do the same with Iran, Syria. Labour needs to get rid of its current leader who is no different to this lot, they need Bob Crow to fight for workers! TB was no labour politician, he could have been Maggie's brain child & now we have her other offsprings destroying our way of life, from health, housing, education, fire service, cuts, cuts, cuts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    We've seen it all before when they privatised BT, Energy, Water, Trains. Denigrate public services with the help of Murdoch & promise how much better it'll be privatised, & we bought it!

    Expect the same with the NHS, more expensive, poor service, private monopoly, sold off to the highest foreign bidder, no investment for future needs

    Is this what our fathers & grandfathers died to defend?

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    I am a nurse, I find it increasingly frustrating that there seems to be a focus on a cost effective service rather than the patient being the focus of the service. There is a constant threat of reudundancy as there may be in all public sector. There seems to be a drive to cull very experienced health care practitioners and clinical staff to save money. It makes no sense, no wonder morale is low.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    When will the people of this country wake up to the fact that this government will trash every public service it can as an excuse to privatise it. They think private sector will be better, only because their shares will go up and they will get huge backhanders from the healthcare companies that have paid for the onslaught of the NHS. The BBC has supported this approach for too long. tell the truth

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    Can't help feel that Hunt along with the right wing press will continue the attack the NHS to soften up the public for Privatisation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    I think James Naughtie got it right, with his slip of the tongue on the Today programme.

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    The rules are different for those at the top. Head a bank that's responsible for destroying the UK's economy - Bonus!, Head a railway company that has a record of poor service - Bonus!, Head the NHS and allow it to lose direction and become 'complacent' - Keep your job!
    - Although all these sectors are open to wholescale redundancies for working staff. - Welcome to 21st Century Britain!

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    This is really bad management by the Secretary of State. He runs the NHS. He should not be slagging it off in public. Sir Alex Ferguson does not do this with his team. He supports it in public and sorts it out in private. He shares the blame for poor performance with the local staff and management. He must shoulder responsibility and not pretend it has nothing to do with him.

  • Comment number 370.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    "Liam Fox's Atlantic Bridge linked top Tories and Tea Party activists - George Osborne, Michael Gove,Chris Grayling and William Hague were among them" The Observer 15/10/11
    The Atlantic Bridge - a "charity" to bring the US tea party and Tories together It would be a cynical man who suggested the tories met with US "health care" companies wouldn't it?

    Hunt has given us a new cockney rhyming slang

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    So Hunt's management style is:

    1- Criticise staff in a blunt and general way
    2- Reduce their pay by pay freezes and increased pension contributions
    3- Erode the resources by cuts and 'value for money'
    4- Reward failure by giving big pay offs to senior managers or promotion

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    “Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain.” - from 'Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party' co-authored by Hunt.

    Now, why would he want to discredit the NHS!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    Billions that have been spent in the last decade supposedly to improve the NHS but it has remained the same patchwork of excellent service living next door to the indifferent and the incompetent.

    This is much like state education and how many businesses operate. It indicates the variability of management quality across our society. There is excellence, indifference and disatrous incompetence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    This is such a transparent Tory tactic. Talk down an industry as often as possible in order to persuade that it is the truth and then miraculously provide the solution i.e. privatisation. This has always been Hunt's stated intent and will surely happen unless the electorate can make their view clear.


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