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Confidence in NHS complaints system could ‘dissipate completely’, warns former charity head

Former Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy explained to Nursing Standard her decision to leave her post.
Katherine_Murphy

Former Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy has spoken out about her decision to leave the organisation this month after more than 17 years with the charity.

Ms Murphy joined the Patients Association in 2000 and went on to become chief executive in 2008.

The former nurse told Nursing Standard: I had a huge caseload without any support. When a grieving parent calls at 11pm at night, it is not an option not to talk.

The helpline cases are getting more and more complex, and the deception among some NHS trusts is getting greater. I need support myself, as it is 24/7, 365 days of the year.

Every trust needs to put themselves in the position of the patients and relatives. When somebody loses someone close to them through an avoidable death, nobody knows the true impact in

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Former Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy has spoken out about her decision to leave the organisation this month after more than 17 years with the charity.

Katherine_Murphy
Katherine Murphy. Picture: Barney Newman

Ms Murphy joined the Patients Association in 2000 and went on to become chief executive in 2008.

The former nurse told Nursing Standard: ‘I had a huge caseload without any support. When a grieving parent calls at 11pm at night, it is not an option not to talk.

‘The helpline cases are getting more and more complex, and the deception among some NHS trusts is getting greater. I need support myself, as it is 24/7, 365 days of the year.

‘Every trust needs to put themselves in the position of the patients and relatives. When somebody loses someone close to them through an avoidable death, nobody knows the true impact in terms of grief and sorrow.

‘I now have more of an opportunity to speak as an individual and to speak from the heart representing these poor families.

‘The NHS is a huge, huge, organisation. They have large teams of lawyers working for them and I don’t think they need them.

‘Instead of getting lawyers, trusts need to be open and honest, and keep relatives informed.

‘Once lawyers are involved, nothing is ever going to change.’

Deception

Ms Murphy said she has worked with some wonderful people across the NHS during her time at the Patients Association, but admitted she sought advice on her departure from Robert Francis QC.

Sir Robert, who led the public inquiry into failures of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, became Patients Association honorary president in 2013 following the death of former president Claire Rayner.

Ms Murphy, whose daughter works as a nurse, told the board of trustees at the charity last year she was thinking about moving on so they would have time to recruit a new chief executive, who has been named this week as Rachel Power.

‘This has been big decision to make, but I feel it is the right time to move on.

‘When the system fails and you see the correspondence to families, which can be cold and callous, and the deception involved, it is a huge burden.

‘I feel I would add more value by transferring all the information I have acquired over the years to help the NHS to listen and learn, and work with them and not against them.

‘The NHS is under huge pressure, everybody knows that, but we still have a duty to provide fundamentals of care. It is up to individual trusts not to neglect patients.’

In 2015, Ms Murphy spearheaded the launch of an all-party parliamentary group for patient safety, and intends to keep in contact with the group as well as the Care Quality Commission, NHS England and NHS Improvement.

She said she believes heath secretary Jeremy Hunt has done a lot of work for patient safety, but that there is still a gap when it comes to handling serious incidents.

‘We don’t have the skills or the expertise to undertake investigations to ensure complainants get the assistance they deserve.

‘Nobody believes the complaints system is working properly. Individual cases can be so complicated that relatives can’t pursue the situation when things go wrong. We are heading to a stage where public confidence dissipates completely.’

Investment

Ms Murphy believes that a key solution to helping the NHS is investment in nursing.

‘There is a huge workforce crisis looming. Brexit is likely to have an impact. There are more people with complex needs going into hospital and we are training fewer nurses.

‘I believe nursing is badly served, and that the nursing voice is missing in health and social care debate. Nursing is the most important part of the NHS workforce and they are innovating.

‘Nurses need to be given the scope and time to cascade their learning, and the government needs to invest in the profession more.

‘So much good practice is out there, and trust chief executives need to understand innovation and encourage it.’

Ms Murphy is now an independent consultant and is working as an expert adviser to trusts that have had serious incidents.

She is also an adviser for a public affairs and strategic communications agency, and is working with clinical commissioning groups and care homes to pilot a care home charter for swallowing and medicines to help care home residents.

She said the University of East Anglia will evaluate the charter, which was started at the Patients Association.

‘I want to continue with the patient safety agenda. Although we have travelled some way, we have a long way to go.’

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