Since the NHS was founded in 1948, free quality medical care has been one of the bonuses of living in the UK. However, over the past few years there have been several failings at hospitals around the country which led to a system of “special measures” being introduced by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) at 11 trusts identified as particularly problematic. The special measures included management changes, closer scrutiny from regulators, partnering schemes with more successful trusts and the involvement of an “improvement director” to oversee the process. So what’s the outcome of all these changes?
One step forward, two steps back
Of the 11 trusts which were put into special measures back in July 2013, five of these have seen significant enough improvements to be removed from the scheme. However, while these came out of special measures, six more trusts went in, so it would appear to be a case of one step forward, two steps back. Nevertheless, announcing an extension of the scheme to care homes and home-care agencies from April 2015, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was encouraged by progress so far: “Thanks to a sharp focus on admitting problems rather than burying heads in the sand, some of these hospitals have tackled their deep-rooted failings for the first time and are on the road to recovery”. Obviously issues need to be identified before they can be tackled and it’s certainly better that failings are out in the open rather than being covered up. It’s also vital that any hospital failures are challenged, whether it’s by the CQC or medical negligence solicitors, to ensure that improvements are made to patient care.
Much work still to be done
Twelve months on, one of the trusts which was put into special measures, the Medway NHS Foundation Trust in Kent, has failed to improve. According to Professor Mike Richards, the Chief Inspector for Hospitals, the Trust “made inadequate progress in the past year” and warned that the “senior leadership at this trust is probably the most unstable that we have seen in any trust we have inspected so far under our new approach.” So, it’s clear that even when problems are being identified, they’re not always being solved. Furthermore, the CQC still has more than half of England's hospitals to inspect. So until we have more information, it’s difficult to grasp the true scale of the problem with Britain’s hospitals as medical negligence compensation enquiries have not dwindled.