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Wednesday, 18 July, 2001, 17:52 GMT 18:52 UK
Milburn promises higher standards
Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn promised higher standards
Health Secretary Alan Milburn has promised that his government will ensure that children's services are never again given a lower priority than adult care.

Giving his response to the report of the inquiry into the Bristol babies scandal Mr Milburn said that a national director of children's health care services would be appointed immediately.

And he announced that Professor Al Aynsley-Green, the Nuffield Professor of Children's Health at Great Ormond Street Hospital, had been appointed to the new post.

Mr Milburn said his job will be to spear head the development of national standards for children's services.


Words in a report can never be enough for those families whose children died or were damaged

Health Secretary Alan Milburn

Better consultation

Mr Milburn said that by next April there will be national standards for children in hospitals and that this will include children with congenital heart conditions.

Ensuring the problems highlighted in the report can not happen again.

"The report paints a picture of a hospital short of resources and short of specialist staff.

"Cardiac care was split between two sites. Children's services played second fiddle to adult services. Power was concentrated in too few hands.

"The hospital was a closed world."

The Bristol report also criticised the lack of consultation with parents about operations being carried out on their own children.

Mr Milburn said this too would change and that information had been published to ensure parents were aware of the information they need.

From April every trust will also have a specialist patient advocacy and liaison in place.

The government also pledged to ensure that accurate information on hospital outcomes are available for patients and that there is a new independent office linked to the Commission for Health improvements to oversee this.

And Mr Milburn said he would be looking, in consultation with the GMC, at creating of an overarching regulatory body to ensure the accountability of health care professionals.

Managers' code

NHS managers will also be given a new code of conduct that they must follow.

Mr Milburn stressed that these were only the initial responses and that the government would give its full response to the 198 recommendations made by the inquiry team this autumn.

He said that although the report could not change what had happened that these would build in safe-guards for the future.

"Words in a report can never be enough for those families whose children died or were damaged."

And he said that it was important when viewing the report to remember that things in the NHS had now changed.

He said it was a systems failure that had created the Bristol scandal, not just the actions of a handful of doctors.

"The inquiry panel made clear their determination to avoid simply pointing the finger of blame at a few individuals.

"The Bristol tragedy was born of deeper causes than the actions of a handful of senior clinicians and managers, wrong though they were to act as they did.

"The children who died and were damaged were failed by a few people in senior positions in the hospital, but they were also failed by the very system that was supposed to keep them well and keep them from harm.

Tragedy

"There was a tragic combination of key clinicians failing to reflect on their own performance, senior management failing to grasp the seriousness of what was going wrong, and people in various official capacities - including in the Department of Health failing to act.

"Uncertainty about who was responsible for sorting out problems meant that they were never sorted out.

"In the meantime children were dying who should not have died. It was left to a whisle blower, an anaesthetist in the hospital, Dr Stephen Bolsin to trigger the chain of events which led eventually, in 1995, to the suspension of children's heart surgery."

But he said it was important to remember that the doctors mentioned in the Bristol report were not representative of the NHS.

"I hope today - above all other days - all of us, across the House, in the media, amongst the public, remember this simple truth: the NHS is full of good doctors not bad ones.

"And good people who are doing their best for patients sometimes in difficult circumstances."


Government response

Key stories

Key figures

Parents' stories

Background briefing

Analysis

Bristol year by year
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