New watchdog to crack down on medical blunders

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In a crackdown on medical mistakes in the NHS, all hospitals, clinics and primary care trusts are to be checked in the next four years to ensure that they are following best-practice guidelines.

In a crackdown on medical mistakes in the NHS, all hospitals, clinics and primary care trusts are to be checked in the next four years to ensure that they are following best-practice guidelines.

Launching a new watchdog yesterday, the Prime Minister Tony Blair echoed his warning last week to the "forces of conservatism" in the teaching profession, saying he is prepared to risk upsetting doctors to raise standards.

He said the new NHS watchdog, the Commission for Health Improvement, would "aim to ensure that every patient, wherever they live, whatever their illness, gets the highest standards of care".

Mr Blair said: "Such an institution has been resisted since the NHS began. Some in the medical profession used to argue that such a body was unnecessary, that it would interfere with their clinical judgements, but however brilliant the expertise of the majority of doctors and consultants, and Britain boasts some of the finest in the world, I believe we owe it to patients to make sure that quality is upheld in all parts of the country. No Government can eliminate human error, or remove risk. But we can put in place the right systems, spread the best practice and scrutinise performance in far better ways than we have done in the past.

"Sadly, the recent examples of the children who died at Bristol Royal Infirmary after heart operations and the mistakes in cervical cancer screening have made this new body not just desirable but essential."

He also warned the British Medical Association that the pace of change in the NHS would not be slowed.

"We are going through the biggest upheaval since the NHS's creation, but I tell you in stark terms, if we don't succeed in reforming the NHS there are those on the right eager to say it can't reform, that it therefore must go as a service for all the nation and become one for the dispossessed. I detest that thought."

Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, is due to publish a consultation document soon proposing changes to the way the medical profession disciplines itself. It is expected to suggest introducing a more independent element to the General Medical Council, which oversees discipline for NHS doctors.

The proposals are known in Whitehall as an attempt to crack down on "dodgy doctors", but they may be seen by doctors as an attempt to take on the medical profession after the Government has attacked other groups, such as teachers.

Mr Blair said the commission is being given a comprehensive remit and Mr Milburn has the necessary powers to act swiftly on its recommendations. He can remove a hospital management if it does not respond to recommendations, sack the boards of health authorities or trusts, and pass the names of individual doctors to disciplinary bodies.

The commission will be chaired by Dame Deirdre Hine, a former chief medical officer for Wales. The chief executive will be Dr Peter Homa, who was seconded from the NHS in 1998 to work on the Government's drive to reduce waiting lists.

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