• Jeremy Hunt will be chair of Patient Safety Watch charity
  • It will seek to establish data to report on patient safety and harm in care
  • Former health secretary says meeting harmed families gave him his “moral compass”

Jeremy Hunt has set up a patient safety charity which will establish data he can use to report on levels of avoidable harm in healthcare, HSJ can reveal.

It will be called Patient Safety Watch, and the former health secretary will chair it and plans to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in it over several years.

Mr Hunt – who lost to Boris Johnson in the Conservative party’s leadership election in the summer – told HSJ he wanted to continue the work on safety he started as health secretary.

He said the “passage of events” meant he was now able to launch and chair the new charity, which he added “was probably in the back of my mind when I had various conversations with Boris over the summer about potential roles in the government”. According to reports at the time, Mr Hunt turned down Cabinet roles.

In an exclusive interview with HSJ, Mr Hunt said meeting families harmed by poor care had given him a “moral compass” while at the Department of Health and Social Care – and that he had started planning the charity at that time.

Patient Safety Watch was established more than a year ago as a limited company, and this week has been registered by the Charity Commission. It will commission research from leading universities on the scale of patient harm, with the aim to create an agreed methodology that will allow trends in the level of harm in healthcare to be tracked over time.

Mr Hunt said this was crucial to holding government to account. During his time at the DHSC he sought to develop various measures of harm and avoidable death, which often met opposition.

Mr Hunt’s former special adviser during his time as culture secretary, Adam Smith, who resigned in the wake of the BskyB controversy, will be chief executive of the charity.

Former Royal College of Surgeons president Sir Norman Williams and patient campaigner James Titcombe will serve as trustees.

The missing bit of the jigsaw

Mr Hunt said he wanted to fill a gap in hard data on safety issues. “The bit of the jigsaw that is missing is the hard data on the number of avoidable deaths, avoidable harm, is it going up is it going down, and taking a view across the whole system,” he said.

“We intend the remit of the charity to be a narrow one which is about establishing credible data around patient safety issues.”

He cited research commissioned while he was at the DHSC on the extent of medication errors, which established it caused hundreds of avoidable deaths a year. “I thought that was a very good model because we just didn’t know what the scale of the problem was and people were really shocked,” he said.

“What I want to be able to do is to stand up in Parliament and say we know that this is the level of harm in the system.”

Asked whether he would be using the charity to pressure Matt Hancock on safety, Mr Hunt said his intention would be “encourage” his successor to share his passion for safety.

“There is no one more hungry for data than Matt so if I can give Matt the hard data that demonstrates the scale of the problem we face, I am sure it is something he and his colleagues at DHSC will be interested in.

“It is a vehicle for me to pursue patient safety in the House of Commons and hold the government to account for improvements we all want to see in patient safety, where I intend to be very active from the backbenches.”

A ‘moral compass’

Mr Hunt said meeting with harmed families “changed my life and gave me my moral compass as health secretary. It reminded me what I came into politics to do, which I think all politicians should aim to do, which is to be the voice for ordinary people and not just for the establishment”.

“I was always deadly serious about it and I don’t think I would’ve lasted as health secretary, indeed being asked to go back three times, if my passion for patient safety hadn’t been real.”

Mr Hunt said reducing avoidable harm was a global and cultural challenge, and could not be achieved by a single minister’s spell in office, adding it was instead a “lifetime’s work”.

Asked if this would be his life’s work, Mr Hunt told HSJ: “I hope so. It’s something I always thought I wanted to come back to after my time in government, whether I was health secretary, foreign secretary or indeed prime minister.”

Asked why people should take him seriously given the problems in the NHS during his time as health secretary, he said: “I didn’t get everything right, but overall when I left the NHS we had secured record levels of funding and record levels of doctors and nurses being trained.

“But that was not enough to alleviate the enormous pressures on the frontline that were there throughout my period as health secretary, caused by the fact we had to deal with the financial crisis of 2008, I recognise that.

“But I never wanted to let having to deal with those pressures stand in the way of the longer-term changes I came to realise we need in healthcare, not least dealing with the unacceptably high levels of avoidable harm and death that we see in healthcare systems around the world.”