NHS urged to halve serious mistakes and save 6,000 lives

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Media captionJeremy Hunt: "We can turn the NHS into the safest healthcare system in the world"

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is urging the NHS in England to reduce the number of serious mistakes being made and save 6,000 lives over the next three years.

Mr Hunt said NHS trusts should draw up plans to halve "avoidable harm" such as medication errors, blood clots and bedsores by 2016-17.

He says this could stop a third of the preventable deaths in the coming years - equivalent to 6,000 lives saved.

The trusts that take action will get reduced premiums for insurance cover.

The push - called Sign up to Safety - will be voluntary and reliant on individual trusts identifying how many mistakes they make and coming up with plans to reduce them by half.

It is being primarily aimed at hospitals, but other trusts including those providing mental health and community services are also being invited to take part.

The drive is being accompanied by a number of other measures designed to improve safety in the health service.

These include the introduction of a duty of candour compelling the NHS to be open and honest with patients about mistakes. This was called for by the Francis Inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal.

'Biggest advance'

Mr Hunt, who on Wednesday will be making a speech on patient safety at a hospital in Seattle, which launched a big safety drive after a woman was accidentally injected with cleaning fluid and died, also said the NHS would be recruiting 5,000 safety champions.

These people will be in charge of identifying areas of unsafe care and developing solutions to fix it at a local level and will be supported by a national Safety Action for England (Safe) team. It will see doctors, managers and patients working together on safety.

A new section of the NHS Choices website will also be launched in June called "How Safe Is My Hospital" allowing patients to compare patient safety across a range of indicators.

Mr Hunt said: "It is my clear ambition that the NHS should become the safest healthcare system anywhere in the world.

"We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to save lives and prevent avoidable harm - which will empower staff and save money that can be re-invested in patient care."

Peter Walsh, of the campaign group Action Against Medical Accidents, praised Mr Hunt for his "leadership" on this issue.

He said the duty of candour was "potentially the biggest advance in patients' rights and patient safety since the creation of the NHS".

"For decades the NHS has frowned upon cover-ups but has been prepared to tolerate them. A lack of honesty when things go wrong adds insult to injury and causes unnecessary pain and suffering for everyone," he added.

But shadow health minister Jamie Reed said: "The government is failing to learn the lessons of the Francis Review - having handed out P45s to thousands of nurses and frontline staff.

"More than half of nurses now say their ward is dangerously understaffed, and more believe patient safety has got worse over the last year rather than better."

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