Confidence building? Hunt says NHS 'dotted' with failures

By Alex Stevenson

Shocking levels of care seen at Stafford hospital still exist in pockets "dotted" across the NHS, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

His warning draws attention to the flaws seen in Stafford driven by an obsession with "cost-cutting, targets and processes", which led to appalling standards of care already condemned by Robert Francis QC's first report.

Hunt's fears that such problems continue to affect the NHS will trigger anxiety as the health service presses on with drastic changes to achieve £20 billion worth of efficiency savings.

Francis will publish his final report into the failures at Stafford hospital and the Mid-Staffordshire Trust this spring.

"I think we are going to have a huge debate in the next few months following Francis about how we return all parts of the NHS to its core values of care and compassion, which are at the heart of the reason why it was set up," Hunt told the Guardian newspaper.

"The reason that everyone is really interested in Francis is because, whilst we don't believe there is anywhere else that has got the problems that Stafford hospital [had], everyone can sense that there are little bits of Stafford dotted around the system. So we have a big debate about values and how we do that."

Hunt is not the only senior figure with deep reservations about the standards currently available in the NHS. Sir David Nicholson, the head of the NHS Commissioning Board, told the Independent hospitals are "very bad places" for elderly people.

Calling for a major shake-up of the care system, Nicholson suggested alternatives had to be found for old people suffering from dementia.

"I would compare it with where we got to with the big asylums," he said.

"If you remember what happened in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a whole series of national scandals about care of mentally ill patients.

"The response was not just to say that the nurses who looked after these patients needed to be more caring but actually there was something about the way we treated these patients and the model of care that needed to change."

The BMA, which represents doctors, said it accepted standards of care over the longer-term "are often not high enough".