Health experts in the North East have criticised the Government’s failure to recommend minimum staffing levels in its response to the Mid Staffs report.
Yesterday Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt delivered the Government’s response to the Francis report into the serious failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which highlighted appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009.
In his main statement, Mr Hunt outlined to MPs a series of changes the Government intended to bring about following the report.
Failing NHS bosses will be put on a blacklist to ensure they can no longer work in the health service, and a new Chief Inspector of Hospitals would be able to name and shame poorly-performing trusts.
But he rejected mandatory minimum staffing levels, an issue that is of significant concern to health professionals in the region.
Glenn Turp, Royal College of Nursing Northern regional director, said: “The real issue is that, where you do not have the right numbers of staff in place with the right skills, things can, and do, go wrong.
“It is therefore disappointing that the Government has chosen not to commit to introducing statutory minimum staffing levels.
“Patients and their relatives have a right to expect that the right number of registered nurses and health care assistants will be available to care for them, at a level appropriate to their needs.
“We have a healthcare system that is clearly under strain.
“The NHS is particularly struggling to deliver high-quality older persons’ care, where the majority of staff delivering the service are currently health care assistants. It is therefore disappointing that the Government has also chosen not to pursue the statutory regulation of this profession.”
As many as 1,200 patients may have died needlessly after they were routinely neglected at Stafford Hospital. Many were left lying in their own urine and excrement for days, forced to drink water from vases or given the wrong medication.
Mr Hunt insisted that if trusts do not deliver adequate care to patients they could be put into a “failure regime” and may ultimately be put into administration.
He also confirmed that hospitals would be subject to Ofsted-style ratings, with hospitals rated as outstanding, good, requiring improvement or poor.
NHS student nurses will have to spend a year working as support workers and healthcare assistants before taking a degree, in order to better understand the caring role of frontline staff, said Mr Hunt.
The move will give the public confidence that those entering the profession can give compassionate care, he added. Subject to pilots, students seeking NHS funding for nursing degrees will become healthcare assistants or support workers either as part of their education or as a prerequisite for receiving funding for their degree.
Amanda Clarke, professor of nursing at Northumbria University, said: “I can’t condone the poor and unacceptable care that was carried out at Stafford Hospital.
“But as professional nurses we do not recognise some of the recommendations put forward by the Government.
“To have student nurses spend a year working as support workers and healthcare assistants will mean that there are more unregistered nurses working on the wards rather than registered nurses.”
Health Education England is to run a pilot scheme to see how the programme would work.
Its chief executive Professor Ian Cumming said the new arrangements would test students’ values in a working environment.