The health secretary has told HSJ he expects the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry to propose “pretty serious policy changes and potentially some structural changes”, potentially leading to more reorganisation.
In his most wide-ranging interview since taking on the brief three months ago, Jeremy Hunt also confirmed the Department of Health had been sent a warning letter by the chair of the inquiry.
Under the rules governing public inquiries, the chair is required to write to the individuals and organisations he intends to criticise, giving them reasonable time to respond.
The backlash to these letters is widely believed to be the reason for the delay in the report being submitted to the secretary of state by the original October deadline set by inquiry chair Robert Francis QC. It is now expected in January.
Mr Hunt said he had been told about the letter received by the department but had not seen it. He also confirmed he had not seen a draft of the report and said the DH had not asked for its publication to be delayed.
Asked if he would consider more reorganisation if the inquiry backed it, Mr Hunt said: “I will consider everything that [Mr Francis] recommends because he’s been living and breathing these terrible events… we’ll give fair consideration to everything he proposes.”
This could include a new health bill “if the recommendations demand it and we accept [them]”. Alternatively they could be included in the Social Care and Support Bill, expected to go before Parliament in the spring, if the recommendations were “in scope”.
Mr Hunt said although he wanted to release the report as soon as possible he needed time to consider the proposals before responding. Mr Hunt said he would set out whether the government planned to implement the report’s recommendations in this response.
“Our default is that we’d like to implement all of them but obviously until I see them I can’t [commit to] do that,” he said.
“We do need some time because I think he’s going to propose some pretty serious policy changes and potentially some structural changes and it’s an incredibly important report. Sometimes the policy implications of what you’re going to do take a bit of time to work through.”
Under the Inquiries Act 2005, the report must be put before Parliament “at the time of publication or as soon afterwards as is reasonably practicable”. HSJ understands this has been interpreted by the DH as a maximum of three weeks.
All core participants will be given a copy of the report before publication. With the exception of the DH they will have just hours rather than weeks to look at it.
Organisations granted core participant status were those involved with the trust in the 2005-09 period examined by the inquiry. There are 13 in total, including the DH, Monitor, the trust and Stafford campaign group Cure the NHS.
Hunt: I'm open to NHS or private sector solutions
- Currently reading
Hunt: Francis could lead to more reorganisation