Jeremy Hunt’s response to the Francis report is ‘inadequate’ when it comes to keeping patients safe, Unite, the largest union in the country, said today (Tuesday 19 November).
Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, said that the health secretary’s response to the report into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust failed to address the central issue - the need for a stronger inspection regime throughout the NHS.
Unite said that the recent revelations into cancer waiting times at Colchester General Hospital showed the problem of a lack of scrutiny and the prevalence of a bullying culture had not gone away since the Francis report was published last February.
While Unite welcomed the monthly nursing figures for wards, the union said that there were no more resources available for individual trusts to recruit more nurses or reverse the current programme of cuts to frontline staff.
Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “What Jeremy Hunt outlined won’t disguise the fact the public and staff can see there are not enough nurses.
“Are managers going to rob pathology to put a nurse on the ward, and then we will have a failed diagnosis scandal?
“Robert Francis reported in February and Hunt has sat on his hands, considering whether or not to do anything, while pressures on hospitals are increasing with cuts, privatisation and inadequate staffing levels.
“While the NHS descends into the mire of privatisation, the health environment has become unsafe, as Hunt continues to fiddle and dither. He has yet to get to grip with how the so-called ‘health reforms’ are contributing to the patient safety scandal.
“The toxic meltdown of the NHS is caused by cuts and privatisation, and therefore Hunt’s response can’t be used as a sticking plaster to obscure the real nature of the crisis.
“It is clear that that we need strong mechanisms in place for enabling staff and patients to freely whistleblow when they witness alleged abuses.
“Healthwatch, which is meant to represent patients’ interests, has no teeth, so local detection and correction are missing. The community health councils (CHCs) need to be restored with increased powers to fight the patients’ corner.
“And our concerns are not just about the acute sector and A&E departments, but they also focus on inadequate staffing numbers in community nursing which put families at risk.
“Francis called for the regulation of healthcare staff, which Unite, patients and staff support, but Hunt has ducked this issue with a watered down ‘certificate of care’. This is not sufficiently robust enough.”
Unite pointed to Robert Francis' foreword to his 290 recommendations: “The experience of many previous inquiries is that, following the initial courtesy of a welcome and an indication that its recommendations will be accepted or viewed favourably, progress in implementation becomes slow or non-existent.”
Rachael Maskell said: “Unfortunately, Robert Francis’ prediction of inertia appears to be coming true.
“We want Francis implemented in full. Ministers have wasted nearly a year in which they have concentrated on privatising the NHS when they should have been being tackling the crisis facing the NHS as winter rapidly advances.”
Unite had welcomed the Francis report, particularly the importance of whistleblowing on poor practice; the regulation of healthcare support workers; and hiding information about poor care becoming a criminal offence.
Earlier this year, Unite called for all NHS institutions to have an independent ‘patient safety officer’, so staff and patients can raise concerns without reprisal, and the setting up of a national intelligence unit to co-ordinate information about problematic trusts.
For further information please contact Rachael Maskell on 07768 693933 and/or Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940
The Unite response to Francis can be found here.
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.