Last night Jeremy Hunt was the principal guest at the Wokingham Conservative Association annual dinner.
Mr Hunt explained what he is trying to do with NHS England. Backed by substantial extra money, he is seeking to raise the quality of work, reduce waiting times and move the NHS onto a 7 day a week service pattern.
The NHS of course has always had to work Saturdays and Sundays. Babies are born at the week-end, people have accidents at the week-end, serious illnesses can flare up at the week-end, so there has always been cover. We are all grateful to many dedicated health professionals who have worked long hours and been prepared to work at week-ends to provide care and cover.
It is also the unfortunate case that there is less cover and professional expertise available at week-ends. Results of medical and surgical interventions are often worse at week-ends. It is this issue which Mr Hunt is seeking to tackle by agreement with the professions. He is offering shorter hours for many doctors in return for more of those hours being at a week-end. He is offering pay rises for most from his new proposed contracts.
Mr Hunt regularly says that the airline industry got better at curbing and preventing accidents when it adopted the procedure of complete transparency, reporting anything that had gone wrong even where no damage was done and disaster was averted. The industry then analyses every incident to see how it can design out any future threat of a repeat which might occur with worse consequences happening. The NHS is adopting such an approach under Mr Hunt’s leadership. Every time a procedure goes wrong, the wrong procedure is applied or the results are poorer than expected the NHS needs to investigate and learn from the experience. The aim is not to have witch hunt against the nurses and doctors concerned, but to learn collectively from the incident.
I wish Mr Hunt every success in pioneering much stronger quality based reporting and analysis in our NHS.I hope the doctors will now talk through their disagreements with management over the new contract, understanding that it is not some crude attempt to cut costs or insist on work patterns that are unacceptable to talented professionals. In turn professionals do have to recognise that with the privilege of higher pay and status in our community comes the obligation to pursue quality at all times, and to be available through a system of proper cover when need arises.