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Learn from US clinics and their 'marble foyers', says health secretary

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the Conservative Party conference
HUNT: Make quality a business strategy

The NHS should look to the USA for inspiration in its battle to meet demand with diminishing resources, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Speaking at the King’s Fund’s annual conference on Wednesday, he said the Government had not been given enough credit for its investment in the health service during difficult economic times, and challenged managers and staff to make savings by ‘thinking about quality and safety not as an optional extra’.

Mr Hunt said the NHS could learn these lessons from institutions such as the revered Mayo Clinic, which runs 20 hospitals in the USA.

He asked: ‘What does this clinic that Arab kings visit with its amazing marble foyers have that is at all relevant to us? One of the reasons it has marble foyers is they have created so much value by making quality their business strategy.

‘The way we unlock the resources we really need because of the pressures on the NHS is by thinking about quality and safety not as an optional extra but as an intrinsic business strategy.’


Business objective

He added: ‘If you are sewn up with an infection still inside you that is a real problem and it can be fatal.

'It also costs about £100,000 for the NHS to clean up on average and that is the point about quality being a business objective as well as a clinical and ethical objective.’

The Government launched a new strategy to tackle infection rates today.

While the Mayo Clinic is highly respected worldwide, doctors and healthcare policy experts would cast grave doubts whether the US system as a whole is a model for the NHS.

The Commonwealth Fund, an independent and highly respected think tank, publishes regular analyses of the healthcare systems in leading economies, ranking them on efficiency and other measures.

In the most recent analysis, the UK was top of 11 countries for efficiency and overall. The USA was bottom.


Not all about money

Mr Hunt also said that extra money was not the complete solution for improving the NHS.

He said: ‘I don’t think the Government gets fair credit for the priority it gives NHS funding. We have to operate within the financial context of the country. We have had, and continue to have, very severe economic challenges.’

He added: ‘The point I would make about money is that we miss a very big trick in the NHS by thinking that all the problems would be solved by more resources.’

Mr Hunt’s claim of a £10bn increase in NHS funding has come under repeated criticism, with the BMA calling for the UK Statistics Authority to intervene in his ‘misleading’ claims.

He also faced criticism from the health select committee last month over his characterisation of NHS funding and at one point responded: ‘Whether you call it £4.5bn or £10bn, it doesn't matter.’

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