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Health Secretary sets out ambition for a 21st century NHS

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has set out the government’s vision for a patient-led, transparent and safer NHS. He called for a profound culture change which would put power into the hands of the millions of patients who use the NHS every day, enabling them to make informed choices about the services they use.

Mr Hunt also called for a step change in transparency – what he referred to as ‘intelligent transparency’. He said that by next March, England will become the first country in the world to publish avoidable deaths by hospital Trusts as well as ratings on the overall quality of care provided to different patient groups in every local area.

Mr Hunt also announced:

      * The need for a proper 7-day NHS service to ensure patients are as safe at weekends as they are during the week, which would be achieved by removing the opt out clause for weekend working for newly qualified consultants

      * The NHS will become the world’s safest and largest learning organisation through the establishment of NHS Improvement – the new name for the jointly led TDA and Monitor

      * NHS Improvement will host a new Independent Patient Safety Investigation Service – modelled on the air accident investigation branch used by the airline industry, which will be led by Dr Mike Durkin

      * For the first time, GPs will be asked to inform patients of the Care Quality Commission rating and waiting time data at hospitals, enabling patients to choose with a more accurate picture of their local hospitals performance and quality

      * Meaningful choice and control for patients over services offered in maternity, end of life care and long term conditions

      * Work to be led by Martha Lane Fox to increase take-up of new digital innovations in health

Following his speech, the Health Secretary also issued a message to all NHS staff about the future NHS, with an emphasis on how, with everyone’s support, it is possible to make the NHS the safest, most patient-centric health system in the world.

Mr Hunt referred to conversations he has had with NHS staff across the country and the focus on targets.  “Many targets have worked well in improving standards - particularly the 4 hour Accident and Emergency target and the 18 week waiting time standard,” he said, “but sometimes they have unintended consequences and make it harder to focus your attention on providing the best care and support possible for patients.

“What I argued in my speech was that if we are prepared to be brave on transparency and be open about the standards of care in every part of the system, it isn’t necessary to have so many targets. People naturally want to do a better job if they know how they compare to their peers. And of course this transparency is a vital part of the Francis agenda to make sure we never have a tragedy like Mid Staffordshire. Get this right and we can turn the NHS into the world’s largest learning organisation - a big ambition for which there is a long way to go, but one really worth aiming for.”

Mr Hunt also said he wants all staff to have someone they can speak to if about concerns that they are not being listened to or issues they feel unable to raise with their line manager. “Every Trust will therefore have Freedom to Speak Up Guardians, as recommended by Sir Robert Francis, and a new Independent National Officer for whistleblowing will be based at the Care Quality Commission to keep an eye on how these processes work. To engrain this in our NHS culture, the importance of being able to raise concerns will also become part of all staff education, training, and personal development.

“I want the NHS to be somewhere where you are able to focus on patient care and where you can challenge, learn and improve. I also know it has never been more pressured on the frontline and so this will not always be easy. But I hope that my announcements yesterday, combined with the financial support the government is giving to the NHS England Five Year Forward View, will help to empower you to make that happen.”