Barely more than a month of 2013 had passed before the final report into the Stafford Hospital scandal was published, sparking shock among the media and the general public. Now, as the year draws to a close, the NHS is grappling with issues including seven day care and the ability of A&Es to cope with the onset of winter. In between, there has been little let-up in the negative headlines.
We’ve covered a variety of these issues in our blogs and now, as we look to 2014, it’s worth thinking about some of the areas on which the NHS needs to focus in the New Year. While there is a certain amount of crossover between them, there are six broad topics on our wishlist which will require action over the next 12 months.
Learning lessons – and implementing the learning:
The Stafford Hospital report didn’t make pretty reading but it did provide some important recommendations. While what went on at Stafford was by no means indicative of the situation at all our hospitals, it exposed significant failings, the most obvious of which was that patients were simply not put first. These failings went from the top to the bottom of the NHS, with the report calling for a ‘fundamental change’ in culture to ensure patients are cared for properly. At Fletchers, we see the results of the NHS’ duty of care being neglected. Changing the culture of such a huge organisation won’t be an easy task but it should be at the top of the list of priorities.
There are two aspects to this – listening to patients and listening to NHS employees. Complaints at Stafford were ignored and there are surely other issues at other hospitals which have not been resolved. Steps are now being taken to begin addressing this situation, with measures such as a new Trip Advisor style website where hospitals can be rated and problems outlined and fixed. Meanwhile, NHS employees need to be encouraged to make their voices heard when issue arise – and to do so without fear of the potential consequences. Listening to the views of those close to the NHS – be they patients or staff – should surely ensure better standards.
Providing quality care for seven days a week:
Seriously ill patients have a greater chance of dying if admitted to hospital at weekends compared to those admitted on a weekday due to factors such being treated by more junior members of staff and having to wait for diagnoses and test results. That fact alone should be enough to justify something being done about the situation and moves are now afoot to try and ensure care standards are maintained throughout the week, partly by rejigging staffing levels. Such solutions will either be reached by spending money or working more smartly and with not a lot of cash floating around it looks more likely to be the latter. Putting proper plans in place which avoid consequences including staff burnout (which in turn can lead to negligence) will be vital over the next 12 months.
Dealing with problems in A&E:
Millions of visits to A&E departments are made each year. The numbers of visits is increasing in size and seemingly so is the list of problems. As we recently outlined, pressure is being applied to A&E units from different sources, including unnecessary referrals, staff shortages, bed blocking and the closure of alternative sources of advice and treatment. A&E is a highly visible part of the NHS and it’s therefore high profile. The debate is being had as to how to improve matters and it’s one that won’t stop in 2014.
Addressing staff shortages:
Ensuring adequate staffing levels across the NHS is a challenge which will continue to be faced in the New Year. Last month a report by the Royal College of Nursing claimed that there was a shortage of nearly 20,000 full-time nurses, midwifes and health visitors, while a Care Quality Commission survey of new mothers has found failings in the provision of midwife care which the Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Mike Richards, has described as “truly shocking.” In short, this is an area which needs looking at urgently.
We’ve already mention ‘smarter working’ and with NHS purse strings continuing to be pulled tightly, greater emphasis needs to be placed on finding new ways for the organisation to develop and improve. This will require tapping into the ideas of employees and, just as importantly, taking forward those ideas. It will also require commitment and passion from across the layers within the NHS. Innovation will more often than not come from those on the front line but it will be management that must embrace them and demonstrate the characteristics required to turn ideas into reality.
In summary, there’s no doubt that there’s a long journey ahead for the NHS and we shouldn’t expect to be welcoming a completely different – and much improved – organisation when we look back on 2014. But there are crucial areas in which changes have to happen, even if it’ll be a tough journey towards making them.
At Fletchers we are used to seeing the effects of medical negligence, many of which have their roots in the above aspects of patient care. If you believe you’ve been a victim, we’re ready to talk to you, so contact us and we’ll help you every step of the way.