Today the government responds to the Francis Reports into the care failings between 2005-2009 at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. What can we expect?
I suspect that there will be a good deal of initiatives and new regulatory effort but little in the way of actual practical relevance.
In March 2013 the government published its initial response Patients First and Foremost in which David Cameron apologised to the families involved through parliament acknowledging systemic failures. It is to these systemic failures we must look to find some answers, but I suspect that my definition of a systemic failure may not be the same as Cameron’s. First lets consider where we are so far.
Jeremy Hunt’s foreword in March focused on creating a culture of safety, compassion and learning that is based on cooperation and openness. He identified four key groups who are essential in providing this culture:
- Patients, service users, families and friends.
- Frontline staff.
- Leadership teams – Trust boards.
- External structures: commissioners, regulators, professional bodies, local scrutiny bodies and Government.
The government’s response was, through the CQC, to appoint a new chief Inspector of Hospitals. Secondly, making hospital performance more transparent through a system of ratings. Then, something called a ‘single failure regime’. There would also be a Chief Inspector of Social Care. In addition the government would ‘foster a climate of openness’. How it would do that when it has no control at all over NHS organisations seems moot.
That was 8 months ago and so we cannot expect too much to change in a group of organisations that make up the NHS brand, a brand that is now a complex system of public and private provision distinct in organisational form from each other and from social care provision. What remains of the complex system is the underpinning Health and Social Care Act 2012.
Many of the 12 points in this March response are hard to critique, for example who does not want ‘Respect and Dignity?’ However there is a little nugget, point 8:
“We will work together to minimise bureaucracy, enabling time to care and time to lead, freeing up the expertise of NHS staff and the values and professionalism that called them to serve”.
This goes to the heart of the process of care, but there are no short cuts to doing this. Minimising bureaucracy requires leadership to address certain managerialist cultures. Prior to Mid Staffs, Leadership was seen as a key aspect of NHS culture changes. However, Leadership operates in certain organisational cultures and that rests mainly with management and can be strangled by a managerialist culture putting organisations into a catch 22: we need leadership to change cultures but we need culture change to allow leadership. However, it is bureaucratic management chasing non care oriented targets in order to maintain or gain Foundation Trust status which have distorted the care process and hampered frontline staff’s ability to deliver. This operates in wider socio-political context of the devaluing of care in that we accept the need for care but will not provide financial and social structures to allow it to flourish. Instead we have individualised care, leaving it mainly to families and women who are often provide it for free or for low pay.
Of the four groups identified above by Hunt, it is the leadership teams, especially hospital management and their Boards, which carry the most responsibility for care in NHS Trusts. Patients can exercise their voices, frontline staff can advocate or try to exercise clinical leadership, external groups can respond to failures often only after the event and were largely ineffectual as they may continue to be. Roy Lilley suggested that weighing a pig does not make it fatter – you have to build in quality from the outset, inspection is a post hoc activity. Trust Boards however set the tone and provide the resources and thus have the primary responsibility for the provision of good quality hospital care. The Secretary of State for health has now abdicated that responsibility in an increasingly market driven health care system.
John Robinson, age 20, died in 2006 as a result of a ruptured spleen after a mountain bike accident. He was discharged from Mid Staffs Accident and Emergency department and died less than 24 hour later. A second inquest is being conducted. Caution must therefore be exercised in making any conclusions about the quality of care John received and whether it was in fact deficient. Claims regarding negligent care require certain conditions to be met and this has not been established in this case.
John’s parents claim that he was examined by a junior doctor, and that a consultant was not available. They suggested that if a more senior doctor had examined John then the chance of a ruptured spleen might have been considered. The junior doctor may have been incompetent, or she/he may have been acting within the limits of his competence, we do not know. The point however is that staffing of accident and emergency, and the training and development of staff who could spot this condition, are ultimately the responsibility of the Trust Board. Professional staff have a duty to make known their concerns regarding staffing and the competence of the team they work with, but they need the confidence to act on their concerns and the recognition by management that the exercise of clinical leadership involves challenging structures of support for clinical practice.
Therefore, professional staff have to be able to exercise clinical leadership safe in the knowledge that issues will be listened to and acted upon. However, managerial leadership may militate against this because their aims and objectives may blind them to real clinical needs. This was a criticism of Mid Staffs management. In John’s case, if it was the poor decision making of an inexperienced junior doctor that was a major contributor to his death, we do not know if clinical leadership was exercised to address any issues of the training and support for junior doctors.
John Edmonstone (2008) suggested that clinical leadership is distinct from managerial leadership and is often ignored or not addressed by those considering leadership in the NHS. In addition he describes a disconnected hierarchy operating in health care organisations: a clinical hierarchy and a managerial hierarchy. This disconnect results in differing objectives, visions and ways of working. This is reflected by Robert Francis (2013 p3) who argued that the failings at Mid Staffs was primarily caused by:
“a serious failure on the part of a provider Trust Board. It did not listen sufficiently to its patients and staff or ensure the correction of deficiencies brought to the Trust’s attention. Above all, it failed to tackle an insidious negative culture involving a tolerance of poor standards and a disengagement from managerial and leadership responsibilities. This failure was in part the consequence of allowing a focus on reaching national access targets, achieving financial balance and seeking foundation trust status to be at the cost of delivering acceptable standards of care”.
Prior to this Hewison and Griffith, in 2004 argued, “too much emphasis on leadership without an equal concern for transforming the organisations (nurses) work in may result in leadership being added to the list of transient management fads”. Hewison in 2011 went on to argue that the focus on leadership as a solution to organisational ills remains in the NHS. This is rooted in assumptions that leadership, changing cultures and producing effective leaders will result in improvements in management and organisations. Hutchinson and Jackson suggested in 2012 that discussions around leadership often fail to address the issues of power, politics, dominance and resistance in organisational cultures. Both pre date Francis comments about the nature of Trust management at Mid Staffs.
Faugier and Woolnough (2003) provided some evidence of what organisations feel like to work in. and thus illustrate how management cultures can distort care practices. They describes three types of organisation:
- The Machine
- The Choir
- The Living organisation.
In their research 45% of respondents stated that their organisation felt like a machine in which leadership is generally driven by senior management to establish order and control. Strategic decisions are made through a formal planning process and change is planned and programmatic. Employees feel like a ‘cog in a wheel’. Faugier and Woolnough concluded that there was serious work to do to ensure clinical staff feel engaged and empowered. They argued that too many staff felt like cogs with high levels of disengagement and disillusionment and that that the implications for patient care were obvious. This was written in 2003, before Mid Staffs made the headlines. One can’t help but think that the antecedents for poor quality care were already established and were being written about for some time.
Questions remain: Will the government be able to do anything about how individual Trusts are run and financed? Will the frontline be properly staffed and supported; will they feel free to express concern about poor quality care?
Is clinical leadership any better supported, and will staff feel empowered and engaged? Will today’s government response address any of the fundamental issues?
Issues to address to address in this regard:
- In a public sector organisation, clinical leaders cannot easily affect, or redefine public policy or legislation set by politicians and so they operate within the conditions set by others. Since the Health and Social Care Act Government has released the reins of control and conditions to NHS organisations and can no longer provide or dictate such issues as minimum staffing levels without enacting new legislation.
- Nursing culture may inhibit clinical leadership development; issues of gender and medical power may continue to inhibit strong nursing leadership within Trusts and in clinical commissioning groups. Has nursing got the respect of the public, politicians, policy makers and other professional groups to allow the to exercise strong leadership?
- The focus on developing the person, their competencies and their traits, which are often based on male assumptions about what leadership looks like, may be in conflict with the exercise of leadership that focuses on relationships (shared leadership) within complex organisations.
- The ratio of professional nursing staff to non-professional staff requiring training, supervision and regulation by clinical leaders is wrong. Not enough nurses, too many support staff.
- Health care organisations may be risk averse and heavily regulated which counters leadership development that encourages risk and creativity and the challenging of the status quo.
- Inspection and regulation are post hoc activities: are the CQC, Monitor and the Professional Bodies fit for purpose in terms of preventing poor quality care?