Department of Health and Social Care
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Secretary of State responds to Healthcare Commission's annual health check

Secretary of State responds to Healthcare Commission's annual health check

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH News Release (2007/0295) issued by The Government News Network on 18 October 2007

Responding to the publication of the Healthcare Commission's annual health check report, Alan Johnson, said:

"This is the toughest and most comprehensive assessment of the NHS ever. Our expectations are high and we expect NHS trusts to improve every year. That is why we set up the Healthcare Commission to assess every NHS organisation, carrying out inspections where necessary to ensure they meet high standards and deliver for their patients.

"This independent verdict on the NHS shows clear improvement, with more trusts getting an excellent rating, more trusts improving on last year's performance and fewer in the lowest category.

"The well performing and improving Trusts are to be congratulated, particularly the 19 trusts that scored excellent on both use of resources and quality.

"But we need to see more improvement from those classed as weak.

"I have asked David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS, to urgently meet the four trusts who have been weak on both quality and use of resources for two years running to assess what action they are taking to remedy the situation. If this is not satisfactory we will consider more radical action. Stringent assessments would need to be made regarding the most appropriate course of action but one of the options could be takeovers by well performing Trusts."

"I have also asked Strategic Health Authorities to publish and implement action plans within 30 days for trusts who are weak on both categories. This helped improve poor performers last year.

On the issue of hospital infections, he added:

"Safety is my top priority. That means everyone in the NHS doing much more than in the past to get the basics right - washing hands, cleaner hospitals, more effective infection prevention. The standards set for hygiene compliance are tough and, following the new statutory hygiene code, have been harder in the last year as we have raised the bar higher. The Commission is clear that, although a minority of trusts need to do more on infection control, they do not believe patients should regard these Trusts as unsafe.

"To make sure we take every possible step I have therefore asked the Commission to inspect these Trusts again. If they are not satisfied with the action that the trust is taking to ensure compliance, they will be able to issue improvement notices, and in exceptional circumstances place the Trust under special measures so that changes can be made. Good cleanliness and hygiene are non-negotiable.

"We have, and will continue to improve the way the NHS works to make sure everyone is safe. We will deep clean every hospital, ward by ward. We have set new uniform rules so that all staff are 'bare below the elbows' to encourage better hand washing. We have given matrons power to report directly to Boards and we will give hospital inspectors the power to close wards if hygiene is not being given enough priority."