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Cameron apologises over NHS scandal

Prime Minister David Cameron apologised on behalf of the Government for the suffering of NHS patients who suffered "truly dreadful" mistreatment and neglect at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust.

In a statement to the House of Commons immediately after the publication of the Francis report into events at the trust between 2005 and 2009, Mr Cameron announced a raft of changes designed to ensure that any future failures in NHS organisations is detected and dealt with more quickly and effectively.

He ordered the creation of the post of Chief Inspector of Hospitals, who will have responsibility for a regime of inspections which are an investigation into "whether a hospital is clean, safe and caring, rather than just an exercise in bureaucratic box-ticking".

An immediate investigation will be carried out by Sir Bruce Keogh into the standards of care at hospitals which currently have the highest mortality rates.

Patients and their relatives will be invited to say whether they would recommend treatment at their hospital to their friends and families, and the results will be published.

And changes will be made to the failure regime for NHS trusts, to ensure that the suspension of a board can be triggered by failures in care, and not just financial failings as at present, said Mr Cameron.

He announced that the Health Secretary will be writing to the bodies responsible for standards for doctors and nurses, to ask why nobody had been struck off as a result of the failings uncovered in Staffordshire.

Mr Cameron told MPs: "We can only begin to imagine the suffering endured by these whose trust in our health service was betrayed at their most vulnerable moment."

And he said: "I would like to apologise to the families of all those who suffered from the way the system allowed this horrific abuse to go unchecked and unchallenged for so long.

"On behalf of the Government and indeed our country, I am truly sorry."

Mr Cameron told MPs he had "a deep affection for our National Health Service" and "huge admiration for the many brilliant doctors, nurses and other health workers who dedicate their lives to caring for our loved ones".

But he added: "We do them - and the whole reputation of our NHS - a great disservice if we fail to speak out when things go wrong.

"What happened at The Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust between 2005 and 2009 was not just wrong, it was truly dreadful.

"Hundreds of people suffered from the most appalling neglect and mistreatment."

Previous inquiries had "laid bare the most despicable catalogue of clinical and management failures at the Trust", said Mr Cameron.

And now the Francis Inquiry had revealed that "the appalling suffering at Mid-Staffordshire hospital was primarily caused by a 'serious failure' on the part of the Trust Board which failed to listen to patients and staff and 'failed to tackle an insidious negative culture involving a tolerance of poor standards and a disengagement from managerial and leadership responsibilities'," said the PM.

Francis had also uncovered failings among bodies with responsibility for care in Mid-Staffordshire ranging from the Primary Care Trust, to the Strategic Health Authority, regulators Monitor and the Healthcare Commission, the Royal College of Nursing and the Department of Health, as well as doctors who "kept their heads down instead of speaking out when things were wrong".

Mr Cameron told MPs: "The way Robert Francis chronicles the evidence of systemic failure means we can not say with confidence that failings of care are limited to one hospital.

"But let us also be clear about what the Report does not say.

"Francis does not blame any specific policy. He does not blame the last Secretary of State for Health. And he says we shouldn't seek scapegoats."

Mr Cameron said that the report uncovered three "fundamental problems with the culture of the NHS":

:: A focus on finance and figures at the expense of patient care and a pre-occupation with meeting top-down targets, pursued to the exclusion of patient safety;

:: An attitude that patient care was always someone else's problem and no-one was accountable;

:: And a "defensiveness and complacency" which meant managers "were suppressing inconvenient facts in favour of looking for comfort in positive information".

Mr Cameron said: "This is one of the most disturbing findings. It is bad enough that terrible things happened at that hospital. But what this Inquiry is telling us is that there was a manifest failure to act on the data available not just at the hospital but more widely."

Francis made clear that the scale of problems was revealed not by managers or by regulators, but by the persistent complaints from the families of victims, said Mr Cameron.

And he told MPs: "The anger of the families is completely understandable. Every honourable member in this House would be angry if their mother or father were treated in this way - and rightly so."

Mr Cameron promised that the Government will study every one of the 290 recommendations in today's Report and respond in detail next month.

And he promised immediate progress on some measures to improve care:

:: The creation of a single failure regime where the suspension of the Board can be triggered by failures in care, as well as failures in finance;

:: An opportunity, from this year, for every patient, carer and member of staff to say whether they would recommend their hospital to their friends or family, with the answers published and the Board held to account for their response;

:: The appointment of Don Berwick, a former adviser to US President Barack Obama, to instil a culture of "zero harm" in the NHS, by clamping down on issues like bed sores and hospital-acquired infections;

:: The Care Quality Commission to create a new post of Chief Inspector of Hospitals to take personal responsibility for the hospital inspection regime, starting from this autumn.

:: NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh to conduct an immediate investigation into the care of hospitals with the highest mortality rates and to check that urgent remedial action is being taken.

:: Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd - who called for more compassion in NHS nursing following the death of her own husband - and the Chief Executive of South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Tricia Hart, to carry out work on how hospitals in the NHS should handle complaints.

Mr Cameron said he would "look very closely" at Francis's recommendation to transfer the right to conduct criminal prosecutions in relation to healthcare failings away from the Health and Safety Executive to the Care Quality Commission.

He said the Health and Safety Executive "needs to explain their decisions not to prosecute in specific cases".

And he added: "The Nursing and Midwifery Council and the General Medical Council need to explain why so far no one has been stuck off.

"So the Secretary of State for Health has today invited them to explain what steps they will take to strengthen their systems of accountability in the light of this report."

The Law Commission will be asked to advise on sweeping away the Nursing and Midwifery Council's "outdated and inflexible" decision-making processes, said Mr Cameron.

He told MPs: "What makes our National Health Service special is a very simple principle of British life: That the moment you're injured or fall ill, the moment something happens to someone you love, you know that whoever you are, wherever you're from, whatever's wrong, however much you've got in the bank, there's a place you can go where people will look after you and do their best to make things right again.

"The shocking truth is that this precious principle of British life was broken."

Paying tribute to the campaigning work of victims' relatives, he said: "When I met Julie Bailey and the families again on Monday, she said to me that she wanted the legacy of their loved ones to be an NHS safe for everyone.

"That is the legacy that we must secure."

Responding to the Prime Minister's statement in the Commons, Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "The last government was right to apologise on behalf of the Government and the NHS, to the patients and families that suffered so badly at Stafford Hospital.

"I reaffirm that today. We, on this side, are truly sorry for what happened. What happened has no place in any NHS hospital. We must ensure that it does not, and cannot, happen again.

"We cannot turn the clock back and undo the damage that happened at Stafford but we owe it to those who suffered, to the people of Stafford and to the country as a whole, to work together to act on this report and to prevent a scandal like this from happening elsewhere."

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