Department of Health unveils joint comms strategy

The Department of Health is embarking on an 'unprecedented' link-up to pursue a joint proactive comms strategy in the wake of the damning Francis Inquiry.

NHS: Inquiry made 290 recommendations for fundamental change
NHS: Inquiry made 290 recommendations for fundamental change

Sam Lister, the DH's director of comms, said that the department is to align its comms strategy with 15 national health organisations while it absorbs the findings of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust inquiry.

He added that the initiative is designed to 'create clarity of comms across the system and for the public, focusing on the shared issues of greatest importance, and aligning the most effective spend' across the health and care system.

Last week Robert Francis QC delivered his report on Mid-Staffordshire's failings - the biggest scandal to hit the NHS in recent times - with 290 recommendations for the Government to ensure a 'fundamental change' to the NHS.

Francis recommended that hospital boards face dismissal if they fail to ensure minimum standards of quality care and safety, and nurses be held personally and criminally accountable for the care they provide to patients.

The Prime Minister apologised on behalf of the Government to the 'families of all those who suffered' at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust, for the 'most appalling neglect and mistreatment' received between 2005 and 2009, causing the premature deaths of up to 1,200 people.

In his Commons statement, David Cameron pledged to put the 'voices of patients and staff at the heart of the way hospitals go about their work'.

Now, participating organisations including the DH, the Care Quality Commission and Monitor will share 'core strategic objectives' on messaging over key areas of focus, for both the new health and care system coming into force on 1 April, following the Health and Social Care Act, and the 'important lessons' of the Francis Inquiry.

The Care Quality Commission is the independent regulator of health and social care services in England and Monitor is the independent regulator of NHS foundation trusts.

The key areas are patient experience; patient safety and regulation; building a 21st-century health and care service; ensuring a better delivery of health and care services for people; helping people to live healthier lives; and focusing on innovation and technology.

Health experts split over fallout from Francis Inquiry

The comms fallout from the Francis Inquiry has divided health experts over the best strategy to reassure patients about hospital safety.

On the day of Robert Francis QC's report, five hospital trusts with high mortality rates were revealed to be facing investigation, led by Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS. A further nine hospitals have been identified by the state in the past week, bringing the total under scrutiny to 14.

Bill Morgan, senior adviser at MHP Health Mandate and former special adviser to Andrew Lansley when he was health secretary, said the DH needed to reassure patients that NHS services are safe, and that 'in taking action to demonstrate that it is willing and able to investigate hospitals with high mortality rates, even if these are ultimately shown to be of no cause for concern, it has started well'.

But Natalie Bateman, health specialist at Fishburn Hedges, said the Francis Inquiry had raised 'significant issues'
regarding communication and trust within organisations, particularly over 'relationships between leaders, managers and frontline staff'.

'Shiny' ideas such as David Cameron's creation of a chief inspector of hospitals would do little to 'provide reassurance in the short term,' she added.

Francis Inquiry key points

Duty of candour NHS staff should face a legal obligation to report mistakes that affect patients.

No scapegoats The Mid-Staffordshire scandal cannot be solved by sacking scapegoats or reorganising the NHS again.

No gagging clauses There should be a ban on clauses in NHS contracts that prevent staff from raising concerns about patient safety.

Training All people caring for patients should be trained and registered.

Disqualification Senior staff who breach the code of conduct should be disqualified.

Key figures

1,200 Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust patients who may have died prematurely

290 Number of recommendations made in the Francis Inquiry*

£13m Amount of money spent on the Francis Inquiry to date*

14 Number of hospitals to be investigated by Sir Bruce Keogh

*Source: Francis Inquiry

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