Medical negligence solicitor Katherine Sirrell questions the Health Secretary's plans for the future of the NHS
Jeremy Hunt in his recent speech announced a change in focus from a bureaucratic national health system to a ‘patient-centric’ one, in essence serving the human beings as patients of the organisation, rather than the focus being on the health of the organisation itself.
He cited the issues at Mid Staffs as a consequence of bureaucracy and short-sighted targets, and argued that a focus by staff on patients instead of meeting wider targets would help to avoid such terrible oversights and mistakes.
But these are not isolated incidents Hunt is talking about- we see tragic instances of patients overlooked and neglected almost every day, but in a lot of the cases we see the focus was on the patient, treated by a well-meaning member of NHS staff, who did not have the adequate time, training or knowledge to recognise a problem and deal with it. And sometimes there are just clumsy mistakes.
The question Jeremy Hunt has to ask himself is why do these issues continue to happen?
Is it as simple as someone completing an audit form when they should have been spending their time caring for patients?
Lumping these problems together and calling them ‘bureaucracy’ is a convenient, and simplistic, way of viewing and tackling the problems in our squeezed healthcare system.
Hunt paints a very optimistic picture of the future (the ‘Forward View’) including a seven day healthcare service, electronic record sharing etc but without the funding and resources available we will be struggling with overstretched medical practitioners and poorly functioning systems.
He wants transparency from NHS staff, but without the explanation of how trust is to be rebuilt for those members of staff to feel comfortable to speak up. What about how we attract students to medicine, retain them in our hospitals, listen to our current NHS staffs’ needs so we avoid losing people and having to rely on expensive locum work? The NHS is, after all, run by humans too.
As impressive as Hunt’s speech sounded, it is once again political point scoring, as thinly disguised and as bad as the bureaucracy he so attacks.
A patient led focus can be a positive thing, and as representing clients who have been let down as patients I see the potential, but we shouldn’t shift focus away from the doctor and nurses’ needs as well. Demanding more out of them without giving them the financial or practical support is not going to benefit anyone- not patients, not doctors, not even politicians.