NHS 'getting better', says Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Hospital ward
Image caption The health secretary says the culture of the NHS will not be transformed straight away

The NHS in England has "changed for the better" in the year since the Francis Inquiry, the health secretary says.

The report, published on 6 February last year, accused the NHS system of betraying the public over the Stafford Hospital scandal.

The criticisms led to a series of changes, including a new inspection regime and tougher measures for failing hospitals.

Jeremy Hunt will say later these moves are making a difference.

'Shift in priorities'

Addressing a health conference in London, he will also point to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre from October 2013 - the latest available information - which shows the number of hospital nurses has been risen by more than 3,500 in the past 12 months to top 172,000.

Although data from the centre also shows that overall nurse numbers - once those employed outside of hospitals is taken into account - have fallen since the last election.

Mr Hunt will say: "Twelve months on, we cannot expect to have solved everything or have completely transformed the culture of the country's largest and finest institution.

"But we have seen a real shift in priorities - new inspections, more nurses and a stronger voice for patients with compassionate care starting to replace tick-box targets as the major focus on boards and wards."

Since the report was published, 14 hospitals have been placed in special measures - with management either replaced or supported to make improvements.

A new post of chief inspector of hospitals has been created and the Care Quality Commission has overhauled the way it inspects hospitals.

This is leading to a new Ofsted-style rating system that will be rolled out later this year.

What is more, from April hospitals will have to publish staffing levels on wards and state whether they fall short of recommended numbers.

'Wrong direction'

But Labour focused on the overall nurse figures, which had shown a drop.

Shadow health minister Jamie Reed said: "This winter he's left the NHS facing an A&E crisis with thousands fewer nurses. It is yet more proof that you can't trust the Tories with the NHS."

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Peter Carter said there had been some "good news".

But he added: "We are also not seeing nursing staff spread evenly across the health system - we have severe shortages in mental health and in the community, and district nurse numbers are down which is very worrying and has many knock-on effects.

"We need to see the government put forward a long-term vision for workforce planning and make sure NHS patients get the care they deserve wherever they receive it."

The inquiry was chaired by Robert Francis QC, following events at Stafford Hospital.

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