Whenever I have been responsible for managing a government department or a company, I have wanted my staff to be honest. All the best organisations are transparent, reporting accurate and relevant information in a timely way. They pour over cases where quality falls short or harm is done, both to compensate the customer or client and to make sure such an error cannot occur again. Remedy begins with honest reporting of the incident. Management does not normally penalise the employee who reports the mistake, but works with them to put it right. It is a bigger offence to suppress the error or seek to cover up the damage, than to make the mistake in the first place.
We see how well honesty and transparency can work by looking at good airlines. An airline knows having a 100% safe flying record is crucial to the health of the business and to the wellbeing of the passengers. Pilots and flight crew are required to report near misses, flight errors, and malfunctions in the aircraft. Each one is investigated thoroughly. Where the error could repeat a generic remedy is inserted in the manuals or programmed into the aircraft systems where this can work.
It is good news to see that Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, is seeking to bring this culture of good management into the NHS. The NHS has great power to do good, but it can also do harm. Serious conditions can be missed by sloppy diagnosis. Individuals can be harmed or even killed by giving them the wrong drugs or the wrong quantities of drugs. Operations can miscarry, leaving a person in pain and difficulty. Recent enquiries have shown examples of very bad care and treatment which are now coming to light.
Mr Hunt is right to carry a torch for greater transparency and honesty. He is right to demand that all medical and surgical errors are reported and properly considered. He is right to demand high standards of cleanliness, infection control and quality through our hospitals and surgeries.