Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has used a keynote speech at the Patient Safety Congress to call for increased reporting of concerns about the safety and quality of patient care.
Mr Hunt highlighted the example of Virginia Mason Hospital in the US, which he visited earlier this year. This had seen a 75 per cent fall in the number of litigation claims it received between 2004-05 and 2012-13.
Over the same period the hospital saw the number of reports increase from 2,696 to 9,277 annually.
Mr Hunt said this was “hard evidence” that it was not “too expensive” to improve patient safety.
“One of the key metrics we need to measure ourselves on is the number of staff raised safety concerns because that’s probably one of the best ways of really measuring whether we have a safe and open reporting culture,” he said.
According to data from the National Reporting and Learning System, medium-sized NHS acute providers report around 5,700 incidents a year on average.
Mr Hunt said the NHS could learn from the airline and nuclear industries which have transparent reporting systems.
“When we started the NHS 60 years ago we turned heads across the world… I want us to turn heads again. I want our NHS to be the first system in the world that starts introducing airline [industry] levels of safety and nuclear [industry] levels of transparency.
“I think if we do that we can turn the tragedy of Mid Staffs into a turning point that many years later we can look back on and say: ‘that was when it changed’.”
Mr Hunt also used his speech to call on the NHS to reduce the estimated 12,500 avoidable deaths that occur every year and to champion the special measures programme for struggling NHS organisations. The health secretary announced the special measures programme in response to the Francis report in 2013.
He said while it could be “alarming” that 10 per cent of NHS acute trusts were in special measures, staff on the front line said the process was leading to improvements and an increased willingness of leadership to listen.
He added: “We have to create a culture where people on the front line feel able and encouraged to speak out if they see things that concern them.”
However, Mr Hunt appeared to sidestep a question from Brian Jarman of Imperial College London about whether he would be prepared to hold an inquiry into whistleblowing in the NHS.
He said: “We are looking right now at what we do about whistleblowing. We recognise the problem… it’s one of the last bits of the Francis jigsaw we need to put in place.”