Thousands of patients dying thanks to poor management in the NHS

The Times reported yesterday that the National Patient Safety Agency has found that thousands are dying every year thanks to poor communication between hospital staff, faulty equipment and a lack of skills.

Politicians managing from Whitehall without proper management experience and subject knowledge cannot understand what is really going on in the health service, they cannot get enough information and when they do they can't properly understand it.  To substitute, they use big statistics such as waiting times for particular procedures.  Healthcare professionals, who are held to standards politicians can understand, prioritise improvement in those simple metrics.

Important measures like creating communication channels between staff,  keeping equipment in good order, making sure staff are sufficiently well-trained and ensuring cleanliness are not given proper attention.  With management by professionals working in decentralised services they would be.  The motor industry is a prime example, where continuous improvements in cars and manufacturing technology have yielded huge benefits.  The firm General Motors built its success on that kind of attention to detail.   Clearly providing  healthcare requires a very similar capacity.  The simplicities of political management just aren't good enough.

So long as we attempt to deliver healthcare through political management we should expect the dismal record of failure in the health service to continue.  British spending on health care has reached the OECD average of 8.9% of GDP.  Yet,

    • The British Medical Journal ranked the NHS one from bottom on the quality of healthcare provided;
    • The British Medical Journal ranked the NHS bottom on mortality amenable to healthcare;
    • The National Audit Office in 2000 ranked the NHS
      worst on hospital acquired infections.  It estimated that at least
      100,000 patients are affected resulting in at least 5,000 deaths a year;
    • A recent EU study found that NHS patients are up
      to 40 times more likely than other Europeans to contract infections in
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