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 484.

    472. Diddleypete
    As a person who is lucky enough to have private health insurance, I can tell you from experience that the NHS Gravy Train is nothing when compared with the Private Health Gravy Train.
    Trebles all round (& the Tax Payer’s paying).

  • Comment number 483.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    Here is what we need to do:

    Get rid of half the managers.

    Hire back all the nurses, and additional support staff.

    Give the medical staff management authority.

    MEP’s, MP’s, MSP’s, Ni & Welsh AM’s, Councillors etc… to take a 10%+ pay cut use it to hire even more Medical staff.

    The NHS must be split, one third; dealing with OAP’s, the rest actual birth to death medical care

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    Oh no not the holy grail that is the NHS again. Give it a rest please. Lets face it Nurses are there for the money as are the doctors and yes it is good pay so be quiet, they would rather have a gossip with their colleagues than change an old mans dirty sheets, lets all wake up and stop me grabbing the sick bucket please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    I would suggest that doctors and nurses are to blame for the low standards experienced in NHS hospitals. I realise that this goes against the British ethic, but in my own experience I believe that the complacency being talked about at present, has been an underlying factor for a very long time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    451.Diddleypete "Hospitals do need a good shake up, the level of care is plummetting. Why do people criticise when someone is actually pointing out they need to raise their game?"

    Well, Pete, it's for the same reason that your post is marked down despite the sensible question and moderate tone.

    The NHS is a religion, and the faithful just won't accept that some of their priests are fallible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    @475. shivvy
    All I can say is that on the occasions I have visited people in hospital if the nurses were nursing and not looking at party photos you would have more than enough staff.
    Sackings are needed all the way from CEO's that don't know what is going on (and are now promoted) down to the skiving nurses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    Why should anyone trust Jeremy Hunt, a man who (allegedly) broke the ministerial code when he was Culture Secretary ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.


    It's funny how some peoples' names reflect their personalities.

    Yes, and I know we're all thinking it... 21st Century cockney rhyming slang...

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    As a nurse, all I can say to Mr Hunt is that if they staffed the wards properly, with proper resources and stop cutting back on ongoing professional training then nurses could actually do their jobs and look after patients. No wonder morale is low and experienced good nurses deserting the profession. Some decent pay and conditions would help too- I haven't had a pay rise in 10 years!

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    My sister qualified to be a nurse last year. After 2 months, she was left in charge of the entire prenatal dep because the nurse she was shadowing had to go onto a different ward because of under-staffing issues. 5 months later, this is a regular occurance - she does 12 hour shift with no breaks and sometimes doesn't even get an hour to eat something. So Jeremy Hunt can go do one.

  • Comment number 473.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    Errrr.... Because he is in charge thats why he is telling them to do better!
    The NHS has become a massive gravy train, with the people within it quite happy to bump along the bottom as they will still get paid at the end of the month! My personal experiences & those of friends has shown me what a dire state of affairs hospitals have got themselves in!

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    I find this hard to believe whilst he supports Mr Nicholson who is not an exemplory supporter of high nursing standards, and who has actively driven the target driven culture which has brought the crisis we now deal with.
    I feel sorry for NHS staff who constantly strife against these people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    I do not believe this Minister, he is always running down the NHS, better if he resigned, like he should have after B Sky B, but there again better if the whole Coalition resigned, then perhaps the NHS will again be the National Health Service and not some second rate service that it will be after this lot have finished, they need to be kicked out ASAP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    January 25th, my Mum died from breathing difficulties in an NHS hospital. We were read the riot act by a Doctor that she was deemed suitable for ward-care only. If her condition worsened, she would not see the inside of the ICU or HDU and if her heart stopped she would not be resuscitated. Eighteen hours later she was dead. I got the impression her treatment was based on expedience not care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.


    As I said before 'this is a smokescreen for privatisation'.

    Well said Sir, Not a day goes by without the Tories or their cronies in the press criticising our NHS. It is a ploy to convince all or rather the people of England & Wales that the NHS needs privatising. God help us all if the people fall for this Tory mischief.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    Hunt is a Tory and Tories want to get rid of the NHS and move to a private healthcare system so that their paymasters - the super-rich - can trouser loads of money from the sick by running private health insurance companies. Therefore he has to attack the existing NHS to trigger change. Save the NHS and don’t vote Tory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    "In a speech on Friday, Jeremy Hunt will attack a culture of "complacency" and "low aspirations""
    A good excuse to privatise it so him and his buddies can be strategic advisors.
    Just like Mark Simmonds, Tory MP for Boston, Lincs who just happens to have a £50k/ year - 10 hr/week job at Circle, who privately manage my local Hinchingbrooke Hospital.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    I was in hospital about 5 years ago for 5 days and I would not recommend it to anyone. Nurses sat in a room, rarely ventured out except to give drugs. Food was abysmal the 1 time I got it, vegetarian option was always gone when they got to me.
    We need a grown up talk about the NHS, Andy Burnhams comments as always are not grown up. Nothing & no group is perfect.


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