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Ensuring transparency and accountability in the Health Service

July 5, 2013 12:00 PM
By Norman Lamb MP is Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Norman LambIn recent months we have seen some shocking examples of failures of care within the health service. Tragic events such as those which occurred at the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital and the Winterbourne View Hospital have demonstrated a desperate need to ensure that people are held to account when awful things happen across the NHS and care services.

It is clear that we need to restore trust in health and care services. When a serious failing occurs it is simply unacceptable for patients and their families to be left in the dark or to feel that those responsible have not had to face appropriate repercussions.

That's why I announced today the Government plans to introduce a series of measures designed to ensure that those in charge of health and care organisations are held properly to account for serious failings. These plans are part of a wider move to improve the quality of care in the health service across the board and to encourage an environment of openness and honesty about mistakes that are made.

Firstly, the plans will introduce a compulsory 'fit and proper person test' for directors and managers; this test would assess a director's honesty and credibility and include background checks of their previous work with other providers. It would also include the power to require the removal from boards of individuals who are deemed inadequate for directorship.

Secondly, we are closing the loophole in the current system which means providers can escape prosecution even following cases of appalling abuse and neglect. Currently, when a provider fails to meet standards in care the CQC first has to issue a warning notice. That provider can, however, escape further repercussions so long as they comply with the CQC warning notice's terms. This has meant that, shockingly, there has not been one prosecution of a provider since the CQC was established. Closing this loophole will make it far easier for the CQC to prosecute following a provider failing to meet basic standards in care.

The events at Winterbourne View Care Home - where people with learning disabilities experienced horrendous abuse at the hands of care workers - clearly demonstrates the need to hold bosses to account across health and care services. If private companies provide a service or run a care home, the company and its directors must appreciate that they are taking on responsibility for the wellbeing of highly vulnerable individuals and, and this is something they need to take very seriously.

We are taking huge steps forward in ensuring a culture of transparency and honesty within the health service; the independent Francis Inquiry into the failings which occurred at the Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust made a number of recommendations which are already being put into practice. Among these are a commitment to ensuring additional support for whistle-blowers and the introduction of new criminal offences for when health organisations publish false or misleading data on their performance. Today's announcement on tackling corporate accountability across the health and care system is another vital step to improving patient care and restoring trust in our NHS and care service. We cannot prevent mistakes from occurring within the NHS, but we can make sure that those at the top of an organisation are properly held to account when they allow dreadful things to occur.

* Norman Lamb MP is Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health