Jeremy Hunt makes secret trip to the Vic - then says 'open, transparent culture' is 'vital step' for NHS

Jeremy Hunt at Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Jeremy Hunt at Blackpool Victoria Hospital
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Health secretary Jeremy Hunt visited Blackpool Victoria Hospital in an unannounced trip today - before speaking of the importance of openness and transparency in the NHS.

Joined by chief nursing officer Jane Cummings, Mr Hunt spoke to staff, and was given a presentation by the hospital's medical director Prof Mark O'Donnell and director of nursing and quality Marie Thompson.

He said: "It was a privilege to meet staff at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and hear about the exemplary work they are doing to improve patient safety.

"I was particularly impressed by the way the trust is creating an open, transparent culture where they challenge behaviour and learn from mistakes - an absolutely vital step in helping to achieve my ambition of making the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world."

The press was not invited at the request of the Department of Health, a hospital spokesman said, leaving The Gazette unable to hold to account the man in charge of the health service on behalf of its readers.

In June, bosses at the hospital said they will be forced to make £21m of savings this year amid a shortfall in government funding, while the number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E at Blackpool Victoria Hospital doubled in the last year - blamed on Government cuts to health services and local authorities.

Labour MP for Blackpool South, Gordon Marsden, said: "I think it's very strange and bizarre that the secretary of state should make these visits without informing people or giving any stakeholders in the area the opportunity to ask questions, in particular the media.

"He will be well aware of the huge concerns about pressures on the hospital and the NHS, and it would have been helpful if he had been prepared to engage in open debate about the failings of the government in their policies to address some of the pressures that our hospitals are dealing with."

The Vic's chief executive, Wendy Swift, said: “I would like to thank the Secretary of State, and Jane Cummings, for taking the time to visit our hospital and give our staff the chance to discuss at length the challenges of working within the NHS.

“We were pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the improvements we have made for patients over the last few years by working together with our partners and to show him how compassionate and dedicated our staff are.”

The Gazette asked the Department of Health why the press was not invited. A spokeswoman said: "The purpose of this visit was to meet and engage with staff to discuss patient safety – it was not a media opportunity. Press therefore weren’t invited."