27/06/2013 13:20 BST | Updated 27/08/2013 06:12 BST

From Crisis to Quality - How Care Must Now Evolve


As I read or hear almost daily stories of 'care' that lurches from bad to appalling, my heart breaks just a little bit more. Watching undercover footage from documentaries, hearing devastated families recounting what happened to their loved ones, and receiving emails or social media messages from relatives who are concerned about how someone in their family is being treated, reinforces just how much work needs to be done to make care in the UK something that is safe for all.

Even our own health secretary has admitted he cannot guarantee that his fellow citizens will receive safe care in the hospitals he is responsible for, which makes you wonder just how much further the system must fall before we reach a point where things start to improve. From Winterbourne View to Mid Staffs and Morecambe Bay, alongside all those individual tales of devastating failings in out-of-hours care, appalling neglect in elder care homes large and small, and home care services that have left people dirty, hungry, in pain and isolated, it seems that huge swathes of our health and social care systems just aren't fit for purpose.

Care means many things to many people. It can be from the most basic to the most complex, but it has some common themes at its heart - endeavour, honesty, compassion, dedication, dignity and respect. To do your best, with the best of intentions, in the best way possible and for all around to know and recognise that. It is a benchmark that should never be compromised.

Those professionals who are providing the outstanding care that we all want for our nearest and dearest often find themselves marginalised, battling against processes and requirements that totally fail to match the needs of the people that they are caring for, and in some cases leave them at odds with the management that govern their work. I don't believe that health and social care is awash with professionals who don't care or don't want to provide good care, but I think it is vital to recognise the often insurmountable odds those true professionals face on a daily basis.

That isn't to say, however, there aren't examples of basic bad practice or total failures of care at all levels, from those providing care to those managing it, commissioning it, regulating it and indeed formulating the policies that govern all of the aforementioned. Accountability is vital in all areas of society, and never more so than when you are dealing with decisions and actions that affect life and death, yet it seems elusive to the point of being non-existent.

True leaders learn from mistakes, be they theirs or those of others. The only way to move forward from the crisis that seems to be engulfing care in the UK is to embrace this education humbly and with wisdom. We cannot bring back the people who have died as a result of failings in care, but so much can be learnt and change brought about that ensures no one else goes through the experiences that they endured and that their families are condemned to living with.

Ask any family who have lost a loved one as a result of how health or social care failed them in their hour of need and most will ask for three things - accountability, justice and change. All of these should be achievable, and yet whether through failures of management, regulation, policy or law they so often are not. We need a new generation of leaders with courage, conviction and a deep personal passion for care to bring renewed faith in the systems that so often govern whether we live or die.

We lost my father as a result of 'care' that fell devastatingly short of what it should have been. With better care he would potentially still be with us today - a life extinguished because with so many of his fellow citizens also needing care he was seen as a disposable commodity, something that applies no matter what your age it seems.

We may be a growing and ageing population, but each one of us has a value that is priceless. Our passing should never be hastened by health and social care systems not responding to our needs when we are at our most vulnerable, and I for one will never stop working to make that a reality for all.