• Matt Hancock says safety is the golden thread in his priorities of workforce, technology and prevention
  • New strategy will be developed by national safety director Aidan Fowler alongside NHS England plan
  • Speech follows moves by the Labour Party to take steps on key patient safety policies

A new national strategy for patient safety in the NHS will be drawn up alongside NHS England’s long term plan for the health service, it has been announced.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock this afternoon said he had asked new national director for patient safety Aidan Fowler and his team to develop the strategy within days of taking over the role from Jeremy Hunt.

In a speech today Mr Hancock said he was committed to improving patient safety and ensuring a culture of openness and transparency to ensure the NHS became “the safest healthcare system in the world.”

Mr Hancock’s comments come after Labour launched a bid to capitalise on a perceived move away from safety by the secretary of state, with the party threatening to amend the government’s proposed Healthcare Safety Bill this week to include safe staffing rules and independence for medical examiners.

The secretary of state said: “In my first few days in the job I agreed with Dr Aidan Fowler the new NHS director of patient safety that a new national patient safety strategy will mean safety is cemented in our new long term plan for the NHS.

“Dr Fowler will soon set out an exciting and powerful vision for patient safety over the next decade. Every patient – whether in hospital, at home, in a GP surgery – expects compassionate, effective and safe care.

“To achieve that, we need to improve learning, we need to better shout about the work that the best trusts are doing, and the NHS must be as open and transparent as we can.”

He gave no further details on what might be contained in the strategy but in a statement Dr Fowler said the strategy would be aimed at making it easier for frontline staff to report incidents and improving the way the NHS collects and acts on patient safety risks.

Mr Hancock was speaking at the launch of Patient Safety Learning, a new organisation led by safety campaigner James Titcombe and Helen Hughes, former chief operating officer at the PHSO. He praised the current foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt for his work on patient safety adding: “Be in no doubt, we together will drive it for years and years to come.”

“As the new secretary of state for health and social care I have set out my priorities of workforce, technology and prevention and patient safety is the golden thread that runs through all three.”

Mr Hancock, who spent Tuesday night working a nightshift with staff at Plymouth Hospital, said he wanted to ensure staff had “safe systems around them” and he wanted to see “a culture where staff are empowered to speak out when things go wrong.”

The health secretary reiterated his belief that technology and open data was key to improve safety and care and said he wanted transparent open data to help spot systemic failures.

He said: “We’re moving towards full roll-out of electronic prescribing and medicines administration in secondary care to extend inter-operability and reduce medication-related error.

“Our new Patient Safety Incident Management System will improve how we capture and spread the insight that we can gain from incident reporting in the NHS, harnessing the new opportunities for analysis that machine learning can offer, to ensure our safety intelligence remains cutting edge.

“And we must – we must – improve the way we spot sepsis and save lives starting with our new ‘suspicion of sepsis dashboard’. Sepsis is such a devastating condition and I’ve been so incredibly moved listening to stories from families who have lost loved ones. We must do all we can to stop it.”

In a statement after the minister’s speech Dr Aidan Fowler said great foundations had been laid for the safety agenda adding: “Alongside the NHS’s long-term plan in the Autumn, we are developing and will be engaging on a strategy for patient safety, which will build on these to make sure people receive the safest care possible from the NHS.

“A key focus of the strategy will be making it more rewarding and impactful for frontline staff to report incidents, improving how we measure and deliver work to improve safety, and how we help providers reduce risks to patients.

“This reasserts our commitment to help the NHS become the safest healthcare system in the world, which is underpinned by a just culture that always supports continuous learning and improvement.”