The central recommendation of the Francis report was today rejected by a secretive panel of government advisors chaired by health minister Norman Lamb.
In the wake of the investigation into care failings at Stafford Hospital, Sir Robert Francis QC said that one of his top priorities was re-writing the NHS Constitution to make it explicit that “patients come first”. He said it should be a “key principle” - that “everything done by the NHS should be informed by this ethos”.
But today the government's ‘Expert Group’ recommends:
“These and other content changes should be considered, not now, but as part of the next formal review of the NHS Constitution, when a longer-term view needs to be taken about rights and responsibilities and how they should be expressed and applied not just in the NHS but across the health and care world.”
The move is likely to draw sharp criticism that - as with both staffing levels and transparancy - Hunt’s rhetoric as the patient champion doesn’t quite match his willingness to take action on the key Francis report recommendations.
“Putting patients first” might be in the title of just about every Department of Health report lately - but this is the second time they've ducked Francis's recommendation to make it a binding constitutional commitment in less than a year.
Just after the publication of the Francis report into mid-Staffs last February, the Department of Health released a revised constitution that merely said the NHS would “aspire” to putting patients first.
The Department of Health said at the time, "We will continue to work with stakeholders to develop proposals for increasing the impact of the constitution, and we expect to consult again later in the year on changes to improve it further."
All went (very) quiet. Since last May OurNHS has been pushing repeatedly for minutes of the ‘Expert Group’s’ discussions. Various of its members told us that more openness about their deliberations would be a 'good idea' - but that it wasn't their responsibility to make that happen. We were keen to know what they were discussing - and also why Virgin Care were represented alongside the grandees like Norman Lamb and Monitor Chair Stephen Thornton.
The government is fond of hand-picked groups of advisors like this - this one picking up where the infamously over-co-operative ‘Future Forum’ left off.
The minutes were eventually released today. They are light on detail though they do reveal the group wound up in October 2013. It’s unclear why it’s taken til now to release the recommendations, though OurNHS started asking questions again a couple of weeks ago.
The Government’s response to the Francis report was entitled “Hard Truths: The Journey to Putting Patients First”.
As cuts bite and private providers eye their profit margins, it seems the government isn’t quite ready to do so yet.
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