Don Berwick, the man who advised President Barack Obama on his health reforms, has been appointed to spearhead a “zero harm” agenda in the NHS, David Cameron has revealed.

President Obama

President Obama

The eye-catching appointment is potentially a substantial coup for the prime minister, who announced the move to the House of Commons this afternoon.

Mr Berwick previously advised Bill Clinton and is regarded as one of the world’s leading health advisers.

Mr Cameron told Parliament harm inflicted by hospitals on patients, such as hospital infections or bed sores, was unacceptable.

He said: “Quality of care means not accepting that bed sores and hospital infections are somehow occupational hazards and a little bit of these things is somehow OK. It is not OK. They are unacceptable.

“That’s what zero harm means. So I have asked Don Berwick – who has advised President Obama on this issue – to make zero harm a reality in our NHS.”

The Department of Health told HSJ Mr Berwick would publish his findings in July but that further details on his brief were not yet available.

Mr Berwick was nominated by President Obama to take charge of Medicare and Medicaid in 2010 but stood down after substantial Republican opposition to his appointment. It is widely thought that he had become a symbol of everything Republicans disliked about President Obama’s healthcare policies. One of his greatest perceived sins was speaking highly of the NHS.

Don Berwick: adviser to the presidents and Harvard alumni

Don Berwick was appointed by President Obama to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services − the US agency which run various health insurance programmes − as a recess appointment in 2010.

He left in December 2011 after the Republicans signaled they would block his confirmation.

His praise for the NHS was seen as one of the reasons he had become a “become a symbol of all that Republicans disliked about Obama’s healthcare policies”.

Before advising Obama, he was president and chief executive officer of the well-regarded Institute for Healthcare Improvement where he spent nearly 20 years. He developed online courses for healthcare professionals for reducing C. difficile infections as one of many projects at the institute.

Other posts he has held include:

  • Clinical professor of peadiatrics and healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School, and professor in the department of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health.
  • Vice chair of the US preventive services task force.
  • The first “independent member” of the American Hospital Association board of trustees, and chair of the national advisory council of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
  • A member of President Clinton’s advisory commission on consumer protection and quality in the healthcare industry.