A network of ‘patient safety officers’ should be established across the NHS to banish the culture of fear highlighted by the Francis Report, Unite, the largest union in the country, said today (Wednesday, 6 February).
Patients, families and staff, wary of raising concerns about patient care through conventional channels, should be able to go in confidence to an independent ‘patient safety officer’ in place throughout all the provider and commissioning NHS organisations.
Unite is also calling for the creation of a National Intelligence Unit (NIU) - with a dedicated hotline for whistleblowers - to co-ordinate information about trusts that are causing concern.
These two recommendations are in a five-point response to the Francis Report that the union, which has 100,000 members in the health service, launched today.
Unite said that it consistently raised concerns when the abuse was occurring and this was borne out by the witness statement that Unite regional officer, Mark Young gave to the inquiry.
Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “What the Francis Report into the terrible events at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust is expected to reveal, when it is published today (Wednesday, 6 February), is a rampant culture of fear, with staff cowed into not reporting abuses by a dysfunctional management.
“We believe that Mid Staffs is not unique and that the culture of bullying exists across the NHS - and poor morale leads to poor productivity.
“We want to introduce an enabling culture where those staff with concerns can go to an independent patient safety officer who has the power to investigate them and then, if their recommendations go unheeded, to have statutory powers to enforce improvements, such as a programme of comprehensive training or organisational changes.
“The advent of NHS privatisation and the additional proposal that staff are subject to performance related pay, will further reinforce the culture of silence which will mitigate against concerns being raised.
“Ministers will use Mid Staffs as an excuse to allow the Health and Social Care Act to act as an express gateway for private companies to take-over large swathes of the NHS.
“The fact Mid Staffordshire was desperately seeking foundation trust status – the half way house to privatisation – when hundreds of people died unnecessarily proves the point that privatisation does not bode well for patient care.
“It is not a coincidence that as Mid Staffs was spiralling into the abyss there were 150 nursing vacancies.
“The key here is poor ‘watch your back’ management. Excellent clinicians are doing their best for patients against a background of £20bn so-called efficiency savings and they deserve a system in which they can raise professional concerns without fear of reprisal.
“Unite is prepared to play its part in calling for the introduction of a patient safety officer at every local trust, clinical commissioning group, and NHS provider and banish a culture of fear forever.
“Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said that he wants patients treated as human beings, and not as numbers – now he has the opportunity to make this aspiration a reality.”