Health & wellness

Dr. Berwick leading safety project for UK health system

Recent news reports have called Dr. Don Berwick the new patient safety czar for the United Kingdom. But he won’t be taking up permanent residence across the pond any time soon.

The former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator, who is exploring a run for Massachusetts governor, said Tuesday that he is working on a short-term project for the National Health Service.

After a series of reports highlighted dire problems with the quality of care in a health care network called the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, the health system and Prime Minister David Cameron asked Berwick to draft a plan for improvements.


Here’s how The Telegraph explained the findings of failure at the facilities:

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Between 400 and 1,200 more patients died than would have been expected at Mid Staffordshire NHS trust between 2005 and 2008, as managers cut costs and, most crucially, the number of nurses, in a bid to prove they were “cost-efficient” and win foundation status.

The two-year inquiry heard how nurses and doctors were put under pressure by managers to ensure official targets were achieved, even when that meant patients were put at risk – leading to the deaths.

Doctors were diverted from critically ill patients to deal with less serious cases that were at risk of breaching a central target to discharge all patients from Accident & Emergency (A&E) units within four hours. Vulnerable patients were left thirsty, starving and in soiled bedsheets.

Nurses were told that if they did not meet the targets “heads would roll and A&E would be closed, with all of us losing our jobs”.


Berwick has been working on and off with the UK’s publicly funded health care system about 18 years ago. (Those who blocked his confirmation in Washington, D.C., ending his term after about 17 months, often cited his comments in favor of that model.)

Berwick will lead a 14-member panel that will meet virtually to craft a plan of improvement for the English NHS. In a brief interview Tuesday, he said the group would meet once in London in April and issue a report in July focused on “rapidly and dramatically improving safety in NHS, building on their improvements to date.”

That may be where his involvement in the project ends, he said. He is “very serious” about exploring a run for governor and is continuing in a “listening tour” of the state.

“I’m very excited to be at this stage,” he said.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.