After spending months campaigning for the Remain side, I was distressed by the decision of the British people to vote to leave the European Union. Throughout the campaign, I argued strongly that leaving the EU would leave Britain a poorer country and diminish our influence on the world stage. This remains my view, and I deeply regret the situation we now find ourselves in. However, I accept the outcome of the referendum.
The British people voted for departure but they did not vote for a destination. I totally support the demand for a referendum on the terms of the final negotiated deal, to give people the chance to approve or reject the deal and ensure that the final deal has a democratic mandate.
I fully believe that Remain voters and politicians across all parties must play a key role in influencing negotiations, to ensure that we avoid the damage to the economy and the country’s international status that a Hard Brexit would bring. My personal preference is for the Government to fight for full access to, and preferably membership of, the Single Market, and I will continue, alongside my Liberal Democrat colleagues, to seek to achieve this. I continue to give my full support to Open Britain’s campaign “to keep Britain tolerant, inclusive and open to Europe and the world”.
The Liberal Democrats are united in our opposition to a damaging hard Brexit, united on the Single Market, and united in our determination to make sure the British people have the final say over the final Brexit deal. I fully support our leader Tim Farron and my colleagues inside and outside parliament in campaigning for these outcomes.
However, I have already committed, in public, not to block the triggering of Article 50. It’s no secret that I have an honest disagreement with the party’s position to vote against the triggering of Article 50 unless the Government guarantees a referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal. Given the vote of the British people on June 23rd, I am not prepared to vote to block the triggering of Article 50 when the bill is brought before Parliament.
Irrespective of my views of the outcome of the referendum, there is a democratic principle at stake, and I feel very strongly about this. When we voted to hold the referendum, we did not set out any preconditions for triggering Article 50, in the event of a vote to leave the EU. I do not see how we can introduce them now. I have therefore made the difficult decision to abstain on this vote.
I will continue to fight, alongside my Liberal Democrat colleagues, for a Britain which is open, tolerant and inclusive, standing tall in Europe and the rest of the world.
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, has been awarded the Patchwork Foundation ‘Other Party’ MP of the Year Award for 2016.
The Patchwork Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to engaging people from disadvantaged communities in British society through involvement in politics.
A long-standing supporter of the Patchwork Foundation, Norman was selected from a shortlist of MPs outside of the Tory and Labour ranks in recognition of his tireless campaign to end the discrimination faced by people with mental ill health.
Commenting after receiving the award, Norman said:
“It is a great pleasure to receive this award.
“I have enormous admiration for the Patchwork Foundation and the invaluable work they do. It’s massively important that we engage more people from under-represented groups in the political process, to ensure that their voices are heard and to ensure that Parliament works on behalf of those who are disadvantaged in society for one reason for another.
“I have a particular passion for fighting on behalf of those who suffer from mental ill health. I’ve come across so many people, in my work as minister and in my constituency work, who are disadvantaged by mental ill health and the way in which they are treated. There is a historic injustice we have to overcome – not just in the NHS, but in wider society.
“We are making progress, but there is still a long way to go. So I will continue to fight that incredibly important cause, and I am enormously grateful to the Patchwork Foundation for this award.”
Norman Lamb MP has challenged the Prime Minister to respond to the mounting crisis in children’s mental health by improving support for emotional wellbeing in schools.
Leading a debate in Parliament, Norman highlighted the national strategy for improving children and young people’s mental health services – Future in Mind (2015) – which was published when he was Care Minister in the Coalition Government.
Central to the Future in Mind vision is mental health support in schools, which aims to build children’s emotional resilience, prevent mental ill health, and provide early support when problems arise.
However, an independent commission set up by the Education Policy Institute, chaired by Norman Lamb, recently found that this strategy is not being properly implemented in many parts of the country. Norman secured the debate in Parliament to demand that the Government makes good on its promise to implement this strategy in full, and to ensure that the extra funding secured by the coalition government is used for this purpose.
In the debate, Norman raised the following key points:
- One in 10 children are estimated to have a diagnosable mental illness, and 75% of mental health problems in adulthood started before the age of 18, so there is both a moral and an economic case for dealing with mental ill health among children and teenagers.
- However, three in four children with mental illness are not in touch with appropriate mental health services, and it can sometimes take up to 10 years before the first symptoms are diagnosed and addressed. By neglecting children’s mental health problems, society stores up enormous problems for people later in life, at enormous cost to the public purse.
- School-based counselling is an accessible and highly effective form of early intervention for children experiencing emotional difficulties. However, counselling services are still not a statutory requirement for schools in England.
- Stigma can exacerbate mental health conditions and prevent people from speaking out and seeking help. More than one in three young people with mental health difficulties have felt the negative impact of stigma, which is most commonly experienced in schools.
- Among the recommendations of the Future in Mind strategy was that there should be a specific individual responsible for mental health in every school – to discuss concerns with an individual child, provide a link to support services, and make effective referrals where necessary. It also recommends a named contact point in specialist mental health services for every school.
- A commission for the Education Policy Institute, chaired by Norman Lamb, looked at what has happened since Future in Mind, and published its final report in November. It found that although there has been good progress in some parts of the country, very little has changed in others, with the bulk of money for mental health services still going to the acute end of the spectrum rather than being invested in preventive care.
- Despite securing £1.25bn additional investment for children’s mental health in the coalition government’s last budget, a survey by the charity Young Minds found that 50% of all CCGs are not spending the full allocation on children’s mental health. Instead, it is being diverted to prop up local acute hospitals. This is “scandalous [and] amounts to theft of money solemnly pledged by the Government for children’s mental health”.
- In Future in Mind, local areas are only entitled to additional funding if they produce a Local Transformation Plan to show how that money will be spent on changing the system to focus more on prevention. Echoing a recommendation of the EPI Commission, Norman Lamb challenged the Government to ensure that additional funding is in future tied to a commitment from CCGs that every penny of it is spent on children’s mental health.
- Theresa May should launch her own Prime Minister’s Challenge on Children’s Mental Health, as former prime ministers did for dementia to establish "a prime ministerial stamp of importance for the subject".
- Mental health must be built into the school curriculum so that every teenager learns about their mental health, and about how they can become more robust in coping with the challenges they face.
- Because there are no maximum waiting time standards, many children experiencing mental ill health are left waiting, sometimes for months, to get any treatment at all. The Government has a duty to ensure that when a child needs specialist evidence-based treatment, they get it on time.
Norman Lamb’s full speech can be read here.
Responding for the Government, the Health Minister Nicola Blackwood paid tribute to Norman Lamb’s “continuing personal commitment to improving mental health services, not only as my predecessor but also through chairing the commission on children and young people’s mental health for the Education Policy Institute”. She put on record that his work has been “extremely valuable” to the Government.
The Minister reinforced the Prime Minister’s commitment to improving children and young people’s mental wellbeing, and to press ahead with the implementation of Future in Mind. In order to achieve this, she confirmed the following measures to improve the mental health support available to children and young people:
- A large-scale school survey on the activities and approaches used in schools to support children and young people’s mental health, conducted by the Department for Education;
- An in-depth review of children’s mental health services by the Care Quality Commission;
- A prevalence survey on children and young people’s mental health, which will look at issues such as cyber-bullying and the impact of social media, to report in 2018;
- Improved collection of data on children and young people’s mental health services to strengthen accountability;
- A 10-year research strategy will be published, and a new policy research unit for mental health will be established in 2017 to make sure that the research continues to become a reality;
- The Government will publish a Green Paper on children’s mental health services, with a focus on preventive activity;
- Funded provision of mental health first aid training for teachers in secondary schools;
- A pilot programme by NHS England has been trialling a single point of contact in 255 schools across the country. The programme has tested improvements in joint working between school settings and specialist mental health services, aiming to develop effective referral routes and ensure that children have timely access to specialist support where required. The Government is reviewing whether that system is more effective than having an individual counsellor in every school;
- The Department for Education is looking again at the case for further action on PSHE and sex education provision, with particular regard to improving quality and accessibility;
- The Department for Education has produced guidance on good school-based counselling as part of a whole-school approach to wellbeing. It has also published advice on behaviour and mental health, which provides teachers with information, and with tools to help them identify pupils who need help and to give effective early support in understanding when a referral to a specialist mental health service may be necessary.
Commenting after the debate, Norman Lamb said:
“I was pleased to lead today’s debate on such a crucial topic. I welcome the fact that the Government is addressing the issue of children’s mental health, and the focus on schools is right. Failing to ensure access to high-quality services stores up problems in later life, with an enormous cost both in terms of human life and the cost to the public purse.
“However, measures to improve mental health care in schools were already agreed during the coalition, and the current government has failed to ensure the investment needed to implement them has got through.
“Much of the additional £1.4 billion of funding secured for child mental health care is being diverted to prop up other services. When a CCG is under financial stress, it is too easy to shave a bit off children’s mental health to spend it where the public are clamouring for action, because ambulances are stacked up outside the A&E department. This amounts to theft of money intended to improve the lives of vulnerable young people.
“Sadly, mental health is often the first area which loses out when budgets are tight. Unless the government addresses the funding crisis facing the NHS and ensures extra investment gets through to where it’s needed, we will not see the improvements in mental health care that are so badly needed.”
This article was first published by The Times Red Box on 10th January 2017.
Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk and former Minister of State for Care & Support
For all the talk of giving young people the best possible start in life, the truth is that this country hasn’t paid enough attention to children’s mental health. The Prime Minister's speech today was, in many respects, welcome. However, with so much evidence of a serious shortfall in the extra investment promised, it felt like a rather puny response to a burning injustice.
An estimated 1 in 10 children suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem – roughly three pupils in every school class. But too many of these children do not get the effective and timely support they need. The consequences are often lifelong, continuing into adulthood and affecting everything from mental wellbeing to physical health, employment prospects to relationships.
When we know that the majority of mental illness starts before the age of 18, prevention and early intervention in childhood is essential. Schools have a crucial role to play in promoting positive mental health – not only by building emotional resilience and equipping children to cope with life’s challenges, but also by providing early support when times get tough to prevent any problems from getting worse.
Counselling is an important evidence-based approach to supporting mental health, and Department for Education guidance sets an expectation that this should be made available in all schools. Sadly, however, this is not the case. School-based counselling is not a statutory requirement in England and the provision and quality of these services remains patchy, with estimates suggesting that up to a third of secondary schools still do not offer counselling to their pupils.
As well as the distressing impact on those who miss out on support, children’s mental health services in the NHS are left to pick up the pieces. Yet they are now buckling under the strain of unprecedented demand, with longer delays and more children being sent outrageous distances for treatment.
Meanwhile, the Children’s Society’s latest annual Good Childhood Report found evidence of a widening gender gap in children’s mental health, with more girls aged 10 to 15 unhappy with their lives or their appearance today compared to five years ago. Together with a recent report by NHS Digital highlighting a significant rise in self-harm among young women, this paints a very bleak picture of the state of our younger generation’s mental health.
The neglect of children’s emotional wellbeing is nothing short of a national scandal. We can, and must, do much more to reduce the prevalence of mental ill health in children, and reduce the stigma so that more people speak out and seek help. That is why I am leading a debate in Parliament on Tuesday, supported by MPs from all parties, to discuss how we can make sure every child receives effective and evidence-based mental health support in schools, and to demand that the Government takes bold action to translate this ambition into reality.
Fortunately, we aren’t starting from scratch. School-based support is at the heart of Future in Mind, the ambitious national blueprint for modernising children’s mental health care launched when I was the minister. Among the chief recommendations were a named mental health lead in each school to oversee whole-school approaches to improving mental wellbeing, including provision of counselling services and better links with specialist NHS mental health services.
An independent Commission set up by the Education Policy Institute, which I chaired, recently published its report examining the progress made in implementing this plan. We found a number of barriers to progress including poor engagement between schools and the NHS, school leaders lacking the experience or time to commission high-quality counselling services, and heavy workloads restricting teachers’ involvement in mental health promotion.
To spark a genuine impetus for change, the Commission’s central recommendation is a new Prime Minister’s Challenge on Children’s Mental Health. This would feature a major national programme to ensure a stronger focus on mental health and wellbeing within schools, with funded mental health training for teachers, high-quality statutory Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE), and a stronger emphasis on mental wellbeing in the Ofsted framework.
These are just some of the measures I will be calling for in the debate. The speech from Theresa May was a welcome start, but will count for nothing if it is not backed by radical action.
The Prime Minister has agreed to meet with the Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, Norman Lamb, together with other MPs calling for cross-party talks on the future of NHS and Social Care.
A group of more than 20 MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats today issued a joint call for the Prime Minister to establish an NHS and Care Convention to come up with a long-term funding settlement for the health and care system.
A coalition of 75 charities, professional bodies and trade unions in the healthcare sector – including Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), Care England, The Patients’ Association, The Royal College of GPs, The Royal College of Nursing, and Marie Curie – have also published a joint letter urging Theresa May to set up an inclusive cross-party process to secure these services for future generations.
Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon, Norman Lamb urged Mrs. May to meet with the group and listen to their case for the proposal, saying:
“The Prime Minister will understand, despite her reassurances, that there are genuine and really serious concerns amongst staff and patients across the NHS and care system about the pressures they are under. It is for that reason that MPs from her own party, and the Labour Party, and from my own, have come together to call for the Government to establish an NHS and Care Convention, to engage with the public so that we can come up with a long-term settlement for the NHS and Care. Would the Prime Minister be prepared to meet with us just to discuss it, so that she can hear our case?”
The Prime Minister responded:
“I recognise the interest and the attention that the honourable gentleman has given to these issues – and of course, he is a former health minister himself – and I would be happy to meet with him and others as he suggests.”
Commenting afterwards, Norman Lamb said:
“The NHS and Social Care are under unprecedented strain, and a fundamental review of how we fund these services is urgently needed. The crisis continues to deepen, and the consequences of failing to act now could be catastrophic for patients and vulnerable elderly people in need of care.
“The Prime Minister’s response was constructive and I welcome that she has agreed to meet with us to hear our case.
“I hope that this will be the start of a constructive cross-party approach to developing bold long-term solutions, and that we will see an end to the partisan bickering that has failed patients for too long.”
A cross-party group of more than 20 MPs, co-ordinated by Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Norman Lamb, has today launched a major campaign calling on the Government to establish an NHS and Care Convention to find a long-term solution to the crisis in health and social care funding.
- The launch of the campaign is strengthened by an open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by 75 health and care organisations, urging her to pursue a cross-party process.
- At Prime Minister’s Questions, Norman Lamb will urge Theresa May to meet with MPs to discuss the proposal.
- Members of the public can support the campaign by signing up to an online petition on the UK Government and Parliament Petitions website.
In a joint statement, MPs from Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats note that there is “widespread recognition that the NHS and the social care system are under unsustainable strain and that the pressures on the system are increasing”.
They warn of an increase in failures of care and “very serious” consequences for vulnerable people if the Government does not take immediate action, noting estimates that more than a million elderly people currently are not receiving the social care and support that they need.
In recognition of these challenges, the MPs are encouraging the Prime Minister to establish a cross-party NHS and Care Convention to examine the immediate and longer-term funding requirements of NHS and social care services. The Convention would engage patients, the public, civic society, staff, trade unions, and providers of health and care services in a national conversation about how we guarantee a strong and effective NHS and care system which is sustainable for the future.
Spearheaded by former Care Minister Norman Lamb, the statement is signed by the Conservative former health minister Dan Poulter MP and Labour former shadow care minister Liz Kendall MP. It is also supported by four Select Committee Chairs – Sarah Wollaston MP (Health Committee), Meg Hillier MP (Public Accounts Committee), Clive Betts MP (Communities and Local Government Committee) and Frank Field MP (Work and Pensions Committee) – along with more than a dozen other MPs and former Health Secretaries Stephen Dorrell and Alan Milburn.
A separate letter, which has been co-ordinated by Independent Age, is backed by charities, professional bodies and other organisations across the health and care sector including the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), Care England, The Patients’ Association, The Royal College of GPs, The Royal College of Nursing, and Marie Curie.
The open letter warns that unless the Prime Minister takes “a bolder approach millions of older, ill and disabled people and their carers will continue to be badly let down.” The letter recognises that a long-term solution cannot be owned by one party, and demands a cross-party process which is:
- Inclusive: established by the government with meaningful cross-party engagement
- Open: listening to the public and professionals who use and work in these services every day
- Urgent: ensuring the cross-party process gets underway without delay.
At Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, Norman Lamb will urge the Prime Minister to agree to meet with him and other MPs to make the case for a cross-party approach.
Norman Lamb MP, former Minister for Care and Support, said:
“The health and social care system in England is facing unprecedented challenges. Failing to find a solution to this crisis puts some of the most vulnerable people at risk – frail and elderly people in need of care services, disabled people who need support and people with long-term illnesses, particularly those suffering from mental ill health.
“Building a sustainable health and care system that can provide high-quality care can’t be realised without putting aside party political point-scoring.
“The public sick and tired of the NHS and care system being treated like a political football. People have had enough, and are crying out for an honest discussion and bold solutions to these challenges.
“It speaks volumes that so many Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum are backing this initiative. At Prime Minister’s Questions, I will urge Theresa May to recognise the gravity of the situation we are facing, and to agree to meet with us to listen to our proposal.”
MPs Statement in full
There is now a widespread recognition that the NHS and the social care system are under unsustainable strain, and that the pressures on the system are increasing and we will see failures of care. The consequences of this for many highly vulnerable people are very serious. We note that it is estimated that over a million older people in need of social care are not getting the care or support they need.
We welcome the Prime Minister’s focus on mental health, but also recognise that we will never achieve genuine equal treatment for those with mental ill health for so long as the whole system is under such financial pressure.
We are also concerned about the impact that these pressures are placing on staff in the NHS and the care system.
We recognise the importance of confronting this challenge and we accept that this transcends narrow party politics. A system designed to meet the needs of the population of this country in the 1940s is in need of renewal. It is not our intention to seek to blame any particular government or political party. Our aim is to find a sustainable solution that will have genuine cross-party support for the future.
In recognition of the scale of these challenges, we join together to launch a campaign to encourage the Government to establish a cross-party NHS and Care Convention to examine the future funding requirements of these cherished services and agree a new, long-term settlement to guarantee their sustainability for future generations and to ensure that this country has one of the best health and care systems in the world.
Now is the time for the Government to start a national conversation involving the public, civic society, healthcare professionals, carers and other experts.
We are pleased to note the call from over 70 health and care organisations including Medical Royal Colleges, charities and trade unions for the Prime Minister to initiate a cross party process.
There is a real urgency about this. The time to act is now, and we need the process completed within a clearly defined timescale.
Vulnerable people will be at risk if we do not confront this growing crisis, and we urge the Government to take immediate action in the interests of the country.
Norman Lamb MP
Dan Poulter MP
Liz Kendall MP
Sarah Wollaston MP
Meg Hillier MP
Clive Betts MP
Frank Field MP
Nick Clegg MP
Andrew Murrison MP
Caroline Flint MP
Chuka Umunna MP
Jeremy Lefroy MP
Lisa Nandy MP
Tom Brake MP
Heidi Allen MP
Sarah Olney MP
Peter Bone MP
Greg Mulholland MP
Johnny Mercer MP
Ivan Lewis MP
Mark Williams MP
John Pugh MP
Stephen McPartland MP
Alan Milburn, former Health Secretary
Stephen Dorrell, former Health Secretary
A public petition has today been launched on the UK Government and Parliament Petitions website, ‘Theresa May: Seek an urgent cross-party solution to the health and care crisis’. Norman is encouraging members of the public to show their support by signing the petition.
Delays in discharging people from hospital are rising more rapidly in mental health trusts than other parts of the NHS in England, Norman Lamb has learned.
An analysis by NHS England, obtained by the Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson and reported by BBC News, shows that there was a 56% rise in the number of bed days lost to delayed discharges in the 24 trusts specialising in mental health and learning disability care, over the twelve months to October 2016. This compares with a 30% rise in delayed days in acute hospitals across the same period.
A broader analysis - including trusts that provide community as well as mental health services - shows a 43% increase in delayed days.
The chronic shortage in funding for local authorities is a key factor behind the delays, with a lack of available support from community psychiatric nurses and district nurses presenting major challenges for mental health patients waiting to be discharged from hospital beds.
Elderly people with dementia and other chronic conditions can be particularly hard to place, while younger people with mental health and addiction issues are often not considered a priority for community-based support.
Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb, who obtained NHS England’s analysis of delayed days in each type of trust, said:
“This significant increase in delayed discharges in mental health is a hidden scandal which demands the Government’s urgent attention. People often talk about the disastrous rise in patients stuck in acute hospital beds, but these figures suggest that the deterioration is even more serious in the mental health system.
“It paints a bleak picture of a system struggling to cope with unprecedented demand for treatment at a time when many mental health trusts have once again reported cuts to their budgets.
"If patients cannot be discharged it often leaves hospitals full to overflowing. The knock-on effect is that patients needing inpatient care are sent out of area because there are no beds available - an outrageous practice which is associated with an increased risk of suicide. This is intolerable.
“Mental health services in the NHS remain scandalously under-funded, but it is made worse by the squeeze on local authority budgets. A radical upgrade in mental health care in the community and the home is essential if we are to achieve genuine equality for people with mental ill health, and put a stop to this dreadful rise in mental health patients being stuck in hospital.”
Norman Lamb has accused the Government of putting the safety of weekday patient care at risk, after the Health Secretary failed to guarantee that more junior doctors will be hired to help deliver a seven-day NHS.
Throughout the year-long dispute over the junior doctors’ contract, Norman has expressed concern that Jeremy Hunt’s plan to make junior doctors work more at weekends will mean that hospitals have fewer medics on duty during the week, unless the NHS employs enough new junior doctors to fill the gap.
In the House of Commons on 5th September, the Health Secretary promised to write to Norman to confirm exactly how many additional doctors will be working in the NHS this year and every other year before the end of this parliament in 2020. However, Hunt’s letter did not provide any detail on how many extra junior doctors would be trained and employed, despite having told Norman that he would give him a number.
In the letter, the Health Secretary said that it was up to each hospital trust to expand their junior doctor workforce, raising doubt that he would make good on his pledge to ensure that enough doctors are employed to protect weekday cover. The letter simply restated the government’s longstanding pledge that there would be 11,500 more doctors by 2020 than there were in 2015.
The Health Secretary has previously acknowledged the potential for too few doctors being on duty between Monday and Friday as a result of the new junior doctors’ contract, which was imposed in October. When Norman first raised the prospect of shortfalls in weekday medical rotas affecting care standards, in a Commons debate on the dispute on 19th May 2016, the Health Secretary told him: "The short answer is that we need to increase the NHS workforce."
Speaking to The Guardian, Norman Lamb said:
“This letter from Jeremy Hunt fails to reassure me. There appears to be no clear plan as to when more junior doctors will be employed, and yet the changes to the contract are being imposed immediately.
“There seems to have been no assessment of the number of additional junior doctors needed to ensure that additional weekend hours won’t have a dangerous effect on weekday cover. Jeremy Hunt has failed to provide the evidence to back up his claim that the problem will be addressed by additional junior doctors.
“My fear is that unless you can guarantee that there will be more junior doctors employed, imposing a change which involves more hours being worked at weekends will inevitably reduce the numbers of hours worked during weekdays when the pressure is at its greatest.
"This could result in real safety concerns. With many rotas already left unfilled around the country during the week, the Government risks making the situation worse by stretching NHS resources too far. The consequences for patient care could be disastrous."
Surgical, diagnostic and care errors are on the rise in NHS hospitals, according to official NHS England figures obtained by Norman Lamb MP.
The last three years have seen more ‘serious incidents’ involving delayed diagnosis, staff failure to act on patients’ test results, poor care of seriously ill patients, and mistakes in surgery.
The figures, which were obtained via a Freedom of Information request by Norman Lamb and reported in The Observer, have sparked concern that unprecedented strain on hospitals and staff is putting patients at risk, amid growing fears that the NHS will experience its worst winter crisis since 2011-12.
The figures show:
- The number of serious incidents involving ‘sub-optimal care’ for a patient whose condition is deteriorating more than doubled from 260 in 2013/14 to 588 in 2015/16.
- Diagnostic incidents including delayed diagnosis and a failure of healthcare professionals to act on test results have also jumped by more than 40%. There were 923 incidents of this nature last year, while in 2013/14 there were just 654.
- Hospitals recorded a sharp rise in surgical errors. In 2014/15, 362 serious incidents involved a surgical error or wrong-site surgery, in which surgeons operated on the wrong part of a patient’s body. This figure more than doubled last year, when 740 serious surgical incidents were recorded.
Speaking to The Observer, Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Norman Lamb said:
“These figures confirm the stark and distressing reality that thousands of people are being failed in their hour of need because the NHS is under such intolerable pressure, with overstretched hospital staff unable to give patients the care and treatment they deserve.
“The Health Secretary has talked a lot about wanting to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world. But is that ambition realistic? These figures show worrying rises in the number of incidents which have a damaging and potentially fatal effect on patients.
“My worry is that the NHS is under such impossible pressure, with clinicians too often working under intense strain, that increases the risk of serious harm being caused to patients, which can have incalculable consequences for them and their families.”
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, has welcomed the recommendations set out by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to improve the processes for investigating and learning lessons from unexpected deaths in the NHS, but warned that progress must be made in ensuring that investigations are conducted in a timely manner.
In April, the Health Secretary instructed the CQC to review how NHS trusts investigate and learn from patient deaths, following the tragic death of Connor Sparrowhawk, an 18-year-old with autism and learning disabilities who drowned in a bath while receiving care at Southern Health.
A jury inquest found that neglect and other "serious failings" at the trust contributed to his death. After learning about the tragedy as a minister, Norman Lamb has campaigned closely with Connor's mother, Sara Ryan, who found that she was largely excluded from the investigation into her own son's death.
This week, the CQC's national review found that the NHS is missing opportunities to learn from patient deaths, and that too many families are not being included or listened to when an investigation happens. It raised significant concerns about the quality of investigation processes led by NHS trusts, and the failure to prioritise learning from these deaths so that action can be taken to prevent similar deaths in future.
The CQC has called for a new national framework, so that NHS trusts have clarity on the actions required when someone dies in their care. All NHS trusts will be required to collect a range of information on potentially avoidable deaths, and to consider what lessons need to be learned, on a regular basis. Each trust will be asked to identify a board-level leader as patient safety director to take responsibility for this agenda and ensure that it is prioritised within the organisation.
Responding to a statement by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the House of Commons, Mr. Lamb paid tribute to Sara Ryan and highlighted the importance of timely investigations when a patient dies in unexpected circumstances. He said:
"I also pay tribute to Sara Ryan, the mother of Connor Sparrowhawk, who has fought tirelessly for justice for those with learning disabilities. I warn the Secretary of State that I think she will take some convincing that things really will change, given all the resistance she has come up against. I hope he has managed to meet her; if not, would he be willing to meet her, with me, to discuss the plans going forward?
"One key issue not covered in the report or statement is the timeliness of investigations. A report nine months or a year after the incident is often no good at all: the organisation has moved on, and people have forgotten what has happened. I commend Mersey Care, which does a very quick, thorough investigation within 48 hours, when the information is really current and people are still shocked by what has happened. That is how Mersey Care seeks to implement the lessons from every tragedy."
In response, the Health Secretary praised Sara Ryan's campaign to achieve justice for people with learning disabilities, as well as Mr. Lamb's role in the Coalition Government.
"I want to put on the record that the right hon. Gentleman was a big champion for people with learning disabilities when he was in my ministerial team, in particular over issues such as Winterbourne View, which he brought to my attention and did a huge amount of positive work on.
"I have met Sara Ryan. I spoke to her again yesterday. I repeat what I said in my statement, that without her campaigning we would not now be making the huge changes on a national level that we are. I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s other comments."