Sunday, 9 June 2013

Whose job is it in the NHS to reduce deaths and complications?

Recently there is an increasing concern about mortality and morbidity in the NHS. Let us for simplicity say that people are asking whether the death rates and complication rates can be reduced. People are asking if there are any avoidable components in relation to deaths and complications and whether those avoidable problems can be eliminated or at least reduced to minimum. People are also want to know who is responsible or accountable for ensuring lower death and complication rates.

NHS Directors

NHS trusts are in the business of delivering healthcare to their populations – that is the essential purpose of their existence. So it may be reasonable to assume that the directors, who are the top bosses of these trusts  and their bosses (SHA equivalent, NHS England directors) will be assessed and rewarded against clinical quality parameters of which deaths and complications are core.

Apparently not. The contract for the managers especially when it comes to pay uplifts and bonuses are very specific. I quote:

''It is an essential criterion of the performance bonus scheme that the organisation achieves its financial control target as agreed with its grand parent organisation (see paragraphs 64 and 65 below).

Where an organisation fails to do this, all its very senior managers will be treated as Category D performers and so no awards (either annual uplift or performance bonus payment) will be paid to them

The annual uplift will be applied to the basic pay being paid to the post holder (which would include any long-term RRP payment), provided that:

the organisation achieves its financial control target; and

the individual concerned is judged as performing at Category A, B or C.

Those in Categories A, B and C will receive this annual uplift to their basic pay, which will be pensionable

Those in Categories A and B will receive, in addition to the annual uplift, a non-consolidated bonus payment, provided the essential criterion is met

i.e. that the organisation achieves its financial control target. Bonus payments will be non-pensionable, non-consolidated one-off payments

So it is seems the only officially contracted criteria to be eligible for a pay uplift and bonus is meeting the financial target (and something woolly about being classed as A, B or C. In any case if you don't meet the financial target it is an automatic D which means no pay uplift or bonus irrespective of how much quality is improved and mortality/morbidity is low

What do you think might be happening in a manager's mind when priority setting? Which director will be prepared to have a very low mortality and morbidity and yet be classed as a failure and given a D. If ever a CEO was prepared to do that what do you think that their directors's mind would think given the fact that various director's pay are set as a percentage of their CEO's pay. What does it tell Jo public when the Finance Director's pay is linked to and set at 75% of the CEO pay and all other directors get a lesser percentage? One lovely chain where there is clear financial incentive to reach financial targets and ensure the CEO gets a higher pay. I am sure my understanding is not perfect but it looks like a conflict of interest built into a contract - you could not make it up if you were writing fiction. Where do you think the emphasis will lie? No guess work – it is explicit – financial control target it is and nothing else.

Now do I think for a minute that any CEO or director gets to work and says 'kill patients but save money', heck no. But we have all heard about subliminals, motivation, contractual obligations playing a part in how we perform. It does not sound sweet.


We then have regulators to oversee that trust bosses who are contractually only obliged to serve the financial agenda are still meeting some sort of standards that matter to a publicly funded healthcare system – i.e. clinical quality with death and complications at its core.

Lets look at some of the regulators purposes:

Monitor: Our main duty is to protect and promote the interests of patients. We do this by promoting the provision of health care services which is effective, efficient and economic, and maintains or improves the quality of services.
CQC: We make sure hospitals, care homes, dental and GP surgeries, and all other care services in England provide people with safe, effective, compassionate and high-quality care, and we encourage them to make improvements.
GMC: Our purpose is to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public by ensuring proper standards in the practice of medicine.

But let us look at how it actually works out


The CQC talks about safety and quality but when you look into what they actually say there is no specific mention that organisations will be assessed against their death and/or complication rates
For God's sake how else do you assess care quality if you do not start with death and complications.


It is the government's aim to provide independence to NHS trusts by allowing them foundation trust status. Clinical quality especially reducing mortality and morbidity is not a criteria for affording independence (though there is assessment on whether the trust is governed properly)
With 10 out the 14 trusts under Keogh review being Foundation trusts, it is reasonable to wonder what actually the question 'well governed' means for Monitor.

BOSS' BOSS – The Grandparent Organisation is DoH

It looks like the department of health may have the overall responsibility for mortality and morbidity reduction though those are not explicitly spelt out in their website

It has taken nearly a decade and half after HSMR was introduced that DoH is making some moves to look into this. Perhaps better late than never. But as the grandparent organisation DoH is responsible for setting the contractual framework like it is in the first place.

What about doctors and nurses?


Doctors bonuses in the form of CEAs are based on quality of service and hopefully given to excellence. There is no requirement to demonstrate reduction of mortality or morbidity but the hope is that those two essential measures of quality will be considered explicitly when these awards are made. That is sometimes the case, sometimes that is not the case. In theory it is possible for even the highest award holders to hold the awards without ever demonstrating a decrease in mortality or morbidity.
Then of course there is the GMC who will come down on doctors who are caught out mainly due to significant single incidents which are reported. More recently the GMC due to its revalidation format demands 'quality improvement' though does not explicitly demand reduction of deaths and complications. 


Agenda for change does not speak explicitly about improving clinical quality or reducing mortality/morbidity.

So who is responsible for deaths and complications in the NHS?

It is everyone's job but no one is required to do it and nobody is responsible or accountable for it.

It does not say in anyone's job description or contractual terms that 'it is your contractual duty to seek and achieve a reduction in mortality and morbidity of your patients and when it is not achieved to provide a reasonable explanation of why they have not been achieved and what you will do to achieve them'. Nobody's pay scale is linked to a reduction of mortality and morbidity. Therefore no one is responsible or accountable for deaths and complications. People do it as an optional extra, as a gesture of goodwill, from the goodness of their hearts, as a side effect of their day jobs. There are so many organisations all claiming to be working for patients' protection, quality and so on but all they do is announce diktats on what others should do; they do not hold themselves accountable on behalf of or as representatives of their members by measured reductions in avoidable deaths or complications. It is always everybody's job, somebody else's job, each one of us wants to hold somebody else to account but never us.

That is why it is so very impossible to deal with and so very difficult to get meaningful sustainable improvements. The contractual requirements, recognition and reward structures are all wrong in the sense they are not geared to look for quality improvement. Looks like this is a case where the structure and process results in just the expected poor outcome.

There are solutions – it is to use healthcare management methods to manage healthcare and not to use as we do now - business, financial, manufacturing, service industry or other management methods for healthcare. Whether there is enough interest, knowledge or expertise to do so is highly questionable.

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Further Info: I am informed by an NHS FT Board Director that the NHS Board director's contract that is referred to in this blog does not apply to NHS FT Chief Exec or Board Directors.
It will be interesting to find out who it applies to.
15 August 2013


Denis O'Leary said...

Hi Hemadri
Your comments are so true - the lack of responsibility and accountability is not isolated to the UK - it is prevalent in Australia as well.

M HEMADRI said...

Thanks Denis
There are all sorts of clauses built into these contracts but nothing related to clinical quality especially avoidable mortality and morbidity.