Blair aide set to cure NHS scars

He's been set the unenviable task of curing a health service still hurting from the fallout of the Stafford Hospital crisis.

Simon Stevens - a former health advisor to Tony Blair - is four weeks into his new job as chief executive of NHS England and today admitted there was still 'a lot more to do' to restore universal patient pride and trust.

The 47-year-old Brummie also revealed that, unlike his controversial predecessor Sir David Nicholson, he made meeting the families of patients who suffered at the hands of Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust a top priority.

It is clear listening to staff and patients is central to the new NHS he will lead.

He said: "I took the opportunity in my first week in post to meet with relatives and nurses from Mid Staffs as well as Robert Francis QC to hear about what had gone on there and to make sure I was up to speed with the lessons that needed to be learned.

"I consider that a very important moment in pointing out across the NHS that we need a new culture of openness where people's concerns about quality and safety are listened to very carefully.

"I think progress has been made since the Francis Report but clearly talking to relatives, patients and staff there is a lot more to do."

He added: "What I'm trying to do in my first few weeks as NHS England chief executive is get out around the country talking to staff, NHS patients, and carers - people who know what is going on - to find out the state of play and what people think are the things we need to get right for the future."

Mr Stevens, who joins NHS England from US private health care firm UnitedHealth Group, is also supporting the reforms recommended by Robert Francis QC who led the public inquiry that exposed hundreds of cases of appalling care at Stafford Hospital.

"What we know is that across the NHS as a whole the standard of care is very high and that is a huge tribute to the commitment and compassion of nurses, doctors and staff of NHS,” he said.

"We equally know - and Mid Staffs has put this into very sharp relief - that is not the case everywhere and we need to get a lot better at listening and acting on what we hear.

"And part of the way we will do that is acting on the basis of what was set out in Robert Francis' report.”

The son of a Baptist minister father and a public health official mother, Mr Stevens is a product of the NHS graduate programme.

He grew up in the Shard End in east Birmingham before going to Oxford University, Strathclyde University and Columbia University in New York.

With the health service coming under unprecedented strain on service and finances, he revealed 'hard questions' would have to be asked.

Health bosses in Stafford and Cannock are facing a £17m overspend this year and are now set to axe services like Cannock's Minor Injuries Unit.

This comes on top of the downgrade of Stafford Hospital's children's, maternity and critical emergency care service.

He said: "We are in year five of the longest and toughest budget squeeze that the NHS has seen in its 66 year history. The NHS has actually done incredibly well over the last several years in finding new ways of working and in shared sacrifice on the part of frontline NHS staff to ensure the quality of care stays high.

"There is recognition we now need to take a new look at the way care is organised in many parts of the country if we are to make the health service sustainable and high quality over the next five to 10 years."

One of these is providing better care for elderly people at home to reduce hospital admissions by joining up different health services such as community nursing, GPs surgeries, the 999 and 111 phone lines.

"I think there are lots of opportunities to do things better which will also save money," he added.