HEALTH Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been in Taunton this morning visiting Musgrove Park Hospital and said he was 'really impressed' by the what he saw.

Speaking to the Somerset County Gazette, Mr Hunt said he had given a presentation by staff at the hospital and was particularly impressed with the hospital's maternity unit.

"I’m going round the country talking about patient safety and what we can do to improve the quality of care for NHS patients, and the hospital did a presentation on the work they are doing with patient safety and I was incredibly impressed by what I saw.

"Real enthusiasm and particularly outstanding work in the maternity department where they have managed to reduce stillbirths by a third in just 18 months. It is really impressive," Mr Hunt said.

Somerset County Gazette:

In August of this year a junior doctor at Musgrove took his own life in the hospital, and a survey from earlier in the year found that two-thirds of junior doctors nationwide felt their physical and mental health was being damaged due to the pressure the NHS was putting them.

Asked what he would say to persuade a junior doctor they are better off working for the NHS in England, rather than taking a job abroad in Australia or Canada, Mr Hunt said: "The Commonwealth Fund, which is an independent American think-tank compared healthcare systems across the world this year, and they said that the NHS was the best.

"Better than America, better than Australia, better than many other countries, and the sad truth is that there are huge pressures in healthcare systems everywhere as we try and wrestle with the ageing population and the challenges we have."

"What I would say to all junior doctors, is that they are the backbone of the NHS. We had a difficult industrial relations dispute last year which I hope we can put behind us but we have listened to the concerns that many junior doctors expressed about rota gaps and the need for more numbers and we are increasing the number of medical students by 25 per cent.

"But there is no silver bullet, because it takes time for the doctors to get through medical school, but that will mean that in the course of time we will start to see fewer rota gaps and that will reduce the pressure which is the thing that most worries junior doctors."

Somerset County Gazette:

Mr Hunt was also asked what could be done to help the recruitment crisis, particularly in rural areas that are not close to universities which have medical courses.

"In the period that I have been health secretary we have 10,000 more nurses across the NHS," Mr Hunt said.

"The nurse numbers overall are going up, but the truth is that our ambitions in terms of the quality of care that we want to deliver are also going up and the pressures are going up.

"Just as we have increased medical school places by a quarter, this year in the Conservative Conference I announced that we are going to increase nurse training places by a quarter as well. For decades we have not trained the number of nurses that we actually need in the NHS and we are absolutely determined to put that right."

Mr Hunt said staff had shown 'understanding' that the way you improve quality of care is by listening to staff.

"The people who are closest to the care are also the ones who can solve the problems best as to what needs to be improved, and I think there foundations are here for a really strong patient-sponsored culture," he said.

Mr Hunt was joined at the visit by Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, who used the opportunity to press the Health Secretary on the need for the hospital's operating theatres to be updated.

Ms Pow said: "In the budget this week the chancellor announced £500m for capital projects and I will be urging them to look on the bid from Musgrove favourably.

"Musgrove serves a significant number of people across Somerset and improvements will be beneficial for the patients and the hard working surgeons and staff."