A Birmingham hospital trust is making determined moves to improve patient safety after a series of deaths caused by medical errors. One of those is to appoint the former leader of a national patient safety watchdog, Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath. Health Correspondent Alison Dayani reports.

A chequered history of safety breaches and unnecessary patient deaths has dogged Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust for the past four years.

After a wave of being shamed in a series of inquests and investigations, the largest NHS Trust in the West Midlands is undergoing a clean sweep.

Into a new regime promising “openness” and “safety” appears Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath, two-time Health Minister and former chairman of the National Patient Safety Agency.

The 5,500 nurses and midwives across Heartlands Hospital, in Bordesley Green, Good Hope Hospital, in Sutton Coldfield and Solihull Hospital have already become the first in the country to sign a pledge to be extra compassionate, safe and a “patient champion”.

Every ward is now being vigorously audited on everything from infection control, to drug management, nutrition and care standards and the chairman also intimates other moves in the name of safety, such as integrating more care across the three hospitals, as seen in the downgrading of maternity wards in Solihull.

“My job is to focus on safety and quality,” said Lord Hunt. “There is a very structured programme in place to improve safety.

“Sometimes things go wrong and when that happens we have to put our hands up and say sorry and learn from the experience, and that’s what we are doing.

“When I was interviewed for the job, one thing I made clear was that I wanted to involve the public in the future of hospital services.

“We have set out a vision for the next five to 10 years. Should we integrate services more between hospitals, we need to be transparent and open but we have to be concerned over safety as well.

"They are difficult balls to juggle and the only way to go forward is by being open and listening to people.

"We are discussing having integrated community services in Solihull more than in Heartlands or Solihull hospitals.”

The new role comes at a time of major overhaul to the NHS and the Labour peer makes no secret of his animosity to proposals.

“The last thing we want is to have a competition where in order to reduce costs and competition around the price of operations, we reduce standards,” said Lord Hunt.

“No-one wants that and there is no way I would give countenance to a reduction in standards here in order to do that,” he added.

Improvements have come after independent reviews into poor quality of baby and children’s wards and five patients’ deaths from unnecessary drug blunders in two years from 2007 to 2009, including Paul Richards, an IT specialist, 35, from Walmley, and Baljit Singh Sunner, 36, from Small Heath, who were overdosed with lethal drug Amphotericin.

From this background has emerged the new nurse pledge, which takes normal expectations a step further and includes promises to act as a role model to other staff, always involve patients and relatives in care plans, speak English at all times and continue to raise safety concerns until they are addressed.

Chief nurse at the trust Mandie Sunderland said: “When introducing the pledge, we were mindful of the trust’s bad history and wanted to reassure patients that we are taking nursing care seriously.

“It is important to be explicit on how we expect our nurses to behave. It is reverting back to old fashioned values of the 1960s that I have a lot of belief in. We would take action against any nurse not maintaining these standards.

“The NHS cuts won’t affect this plan because the pledge is about behaviour and values and that doesn’t cost anything.”