NHS Redress Bill

Charles Walker raises concerns about the NHS investigating complaints against itself and calls for an element of independence.

Mr. Walker: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. In Committee I thought that, by and large, this was a good Bill. There were some flaws in it, but on the whole it was facing in the right direction. However, I am becoming concerned.

The Bill raises the question of who is in charge of a hospital trust when a mistake is made. The answer, of course, is the chief executive. The buck stops with him. If a pattern of mistakes emerges, there is a danger that vested interests will begin to take hold. Would a chief executive therefore begin to take a much closer interest in the investigation process, perhaps to make sure that the full implications of the mistakes made do not see the light of day, or that if they do, they are kept well away from his office?

There is a need for trust and transparency in the system. The public sector—the NHS and the police, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) said—is at the best of times viewed with a degree of cynicism by the public. There is a concern among many of my constituents, and no doubt among the public in general, that if faced with an investigation that could be embarrassing, the NHS will close ranks around the senior management team and perhaps the clinicians concerned.

The danger arises if a pattern starts to emerge. We discussed reports being made public or not. Surely if a pattern is emerging, reports may be withheld because they will prove that failures in the system have not been addressed—that something that was identified a year ago has happened time and again. For the sake of my constituents and others, a degree of independence would be wholly justified. Perhaps a complaint against a trust should be investigated by another trust. We see that happening in the police, where one force may investigate a complaint against another.

I know that the Minister is a hugely decent and honourable gentleman and I would not wish to waste his time by making puerile suggestions. I join my hon. Friends in urging him to find some way of injecting an element of independence into the investigation procedure, perhaps by allowing a trust other than the one being investigated to look into the complaint or the case being presented.

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OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS DEBATE

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): If the report is not provided to a patient, where would that leave the patient? What form of redress would the patient have in those cases? How could the patient ascertain where the failings occurred in his or her the treatment if he or she does not have a copy of the report?


Andy Burnham
: We were asked to go further in Committee. We have in the Bill a requirement to provide an explanation and an apology if one is deemed appropriate. I argued in Committee that that would ordinarily meet the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Romsey, because people would receive an explanation that, for all intents and purposes, would comprise the same information as the report. She pressed me to go further. She said that a report will be compiled, so it is right that the patient should have access to that report. If it is accepted that a case should proceed under the NHS redress scheme, those provisions are laid down in the Bill, so the patient is left in a strong position, and the patient will be in an even stronger position as a result of the amendments.

Mr. Walker: I hate to pick at open wounds, but it is a little like the Prime Minister saying, “Yes, I recognise there is a problem with cash for peerages and the Labour party is going to investigate it.” What confidence would the public have in that sort of statement?


Dr. Taylor
: I will not comment on that point.

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