Health secretary Andy Burnham has defended his decision to stop short of launching a full public inquiry into failures at Mid Staffordshire foundation trust, telling HSJ he thought it would be “distracting to managers”.
Yesterday Mr Burnham announced there would be an independent inquiry chaired by Robert Francis QC to hear evidence from patients and families and identify lessons for the future.
Mr Burnham told HSJ: “The demands were for a full public inquiry but my thoughts were that would distract the management.”
He said that while the interim chief executive and chair at the foundation had done an “excellent job”, he “wasn’t comfortable” about having temporary leaders in place and had been keen to appoint permanent people.
This week the foundation trust regulator Monitor appointed Antony Sumara as the foundation’s permanent chief executive and Sir Stephen Moss as its chair.
“The over-riding priority has been to help the trust improve as quickly as possible,” Mr Burnham said. “We need to help the local people move forward. The independent inquiry needs to give full examination to the sometimes appalling standards of care. The NHS needs to be a learning organisation at its heart and this report will help that.”
But shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said an independent inquiry did “not go far enough” and would not repair public confidence in the way a full public inquiry would have done.
“While I welcome the acknowledgement that individual cases have not been given a sufficient hearing, other critical issues have been sidelined,” he said.
“The terms of reference neither scrutinise the role of the DH nor the impact of the government’s policies. In addition, they don’t incorporate the relationship between the commissioning bodies and those with oversight and scrutiny at the trust.”
The government has also announced plans to give Monitor the power to de-authorise foundation trusts and also to allow ministers to request it consider this. Under the plans, if Monitor disagrees with ministerial requests, it will be required to set out why publically.
Mr Burnham told HSJ those plans did not add up to an attempt to undermine Monitor or “retreat” from foundation trust policy. He said the proposed new legislative changes were an “acknowledgement that the original legislation in my view had a flaw”.
He added: “There should be a power to de-authorise an FT in the exceptional circumstances where there has been a serious failure or a damaging loss of confidence. There should be an ability to bring the trust close and back in. I was surprised we didn’t have that power [already].”
He said it was necessary to give ministers the ability to formally request Monitor look to de-authorise a foundation because while the regulator may be closely monitoring the data on an organisation’s performance, ministers might have a closer eye to public concerns.