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Three London hospital trusts were today rated as “poor” in a new safety league table showing the failure of the NHS to learn from mistakes.

Barts Health, St George’s and Croydon, plus the West London mental health trust that runs Broadmoor, were all given the lowest score as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt attempted to seize the safety agenda from junior doctors taking part in a 48-hour walkout.

Mr Hunt announced an airline-style system of protecting staff who admit to mistakes and end the “scandal” of 150 “avoidable deaths” in NHS hospitals each week.

But he was criticised for the timing of today’s league table, which came as hospital managers desperately tried to cope with staff shortages that required 1,083 non-emergency operations to be cancelled across London.

Junior doctors on a picket line outside St George’s, in Tooting, defended today’s action – the third in the British Medical Association’s battle against imposition of new working hours it says will harm patient care – as a “last resort” by a demoralised and over-stretched workforce.

Sarah May Johnson, 31, a paediatric junior doctor, said: “We feel so strongly that if we don’t do this then the NHS is going to suffer and that our patients are going to suffer. It’s about safeguarding our patients and the future patients, it’s not just about today’s patients.”

Claire McBrien, 30, a respiratory and general medicine registrar, said: “It’s a last resort. We couldn’t live with ourselves if we sat silently and let this go through.”

Lola Loewenthal, 32, a respiratory and general medicine registrar, said: “The system is already near breaking point. We are living on a service of goodwill. We are going to go towards a system where it’s going to become more unsafe.”

Junior doctors took to social media with #dearMrHunt stories explaining why they were taking action. One student medic, Hannah Barham-Brown, (featured in the video above), has waited six months for a rheumatology appointment that was cancelled today.

She said: “I’m not angry that junior doctors are going on strike, leading to this appointment being cancelled. I’m very grateful to them because I know that the main reason they’re going out on strike is to protect the safety and the care of patients like me.”

Miles Scott, chief executive of St George’s, last week admitted that the imposition of new contracts had caused a “huge amount of discontent” among staff. He said: “The distress is palpable and genuine.”

Protests will continue tonight with a “blue light” candle vigil to Downing Street at 8.30pm, to enable medics who have been providing emergency cover today to show their support.

The official release of the league table by Monitor this morning was delayed as hospital bosses raised concerns over its validity. The Royal Marsden and Guy’s and St Thomas’s were among 18 trusts said to be “outstanding” at reporting safety concerns.

Two further 48-hour walkouts are due to start on April 6 and 26.

Dr Anne Rainsberry, national incident director for NHS England, said: “This is clearly going to be a difficult couple of days. A 48-hour strike will put significantly more pressure on the NHS and the cumulative effect of these recurring strikes is likely to take a toll.”

Croydon said 1,655 incidents were reported in Quarter 3 (Oct, Nov, Dec) 2015/16, compared to 1,366 incidents reported in the same Quarter 2013/04.

Medical director Dr Nnenna Osuji said: “Sharing the lessons learned from any incident is the only way that we can keep improving our care.  The number of incidents we are reporting has shot-up 21% (Q3 2015/16 to Q3 2013/14). This does not mean more incidents are occurring – it means that we are raising awareness to keep patient safety number one.

“We have introduced new systems and anonymous reporting to encourage all incidents to be recorded. Three key messages are also published every week within the Trust to share our findings from incidents and complaints. This is helping to spread best practice from one team to the next.

“We are absolutely determined to be open about what we are doing to improve our care.  Safety levels – including hygiene and staffing – are displayed on large notice boards on every hospital ward for all our patients and visitors to see. 

“We are also bringing together frontline staff to listen to their ideas for how we can keep improving.  More 130 staff – clinical and non-clinical – attended our last shared learning event.

Barts Health said was “committed to creating a culture of safety and transparency” and had introduced an improvement plan, Safe and Compassionate.

Features include daily safety huddles, where staff are encouraged to raise concerns and share learning from when things don’t go as well as they should.

The trust said the plan had:

  • Reaffirmed our commitment to eliminating bullying and harassment at Barts Health and ensuring that we create a culture where staff feel supported to raise concerns.
  • Announced further Big Conversations in the coming weeks specifically about the behaviours we want to see to ensure this culture becomes a reality.
  • Trained safety champions to spread best practice in all of our hospitals.
  • Invested in a new way of receiving real time electronic patient feedback, that will help us make further improvements.

“We know we still have lots of work to do and will strive to ensure our services are safe and compassionate as a matter of course.”

  • Reporting from St George’s picket line by Evening Standard reporter David Churchill.