Corner office hopeful Berwick details work on British health care

Dr. Donald M. Berwick, a former Obama administration health care official running for governor, today trumpeted his work crafting a broad and widely-awaited report on how to improve health care — in England.

In a conference call with reporters, Berwick, an expert on health care quality but a novice politician, detailed the review of British patient safety he presented to the government of the United Kingdom in London on Tuesday.

Berwick, who was not compensated (either in dollars or pounds sterling) for the report on England’s National Health Service, today told American reporters that his work shows that he understands how to improve the quality of service and outcomes of large, complicated government systems.

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“It was not a small thing for the prime minister of another country to ask me to come to that country to advise, as an outsider, on how to take one of the most important and valuable systems they’ve got and make it even better,” Berwick said.

“Perhaps, that kind of trust in me as an advisor would be interpreted by people in this state as evidence of some of the competence and the interest I have in helping us do better as a society,” he added.

Berwick chaired the advisory group that wrote the report. It followed a scandal at a hospital — part of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust — in which, problems “led to avoidable patient deaths and injuries,” according to a letter Berwick wrote to the people of England included in the report.

Berwick said he did not think his work on the British report could be a liability here in Massachusetts.

“I think Massachusetts is...a place where people are happy to learn lessons from other places, just as I have for thirty years,” he said.

Berwick, a Newton pediatrician, spent almost a year and a half running the country’s massive Medicaid and Medicare programs as a recess appointment under President Obama.

But he left his post after Republicans in the US Senate vowed to block his confirmation. They slammed Berwick for comments supportive of the National Health Service. Republicans also accused him of being a proponent of health care rationing, a charge he has repeatedly said is nonsense.

“The critique in Washington always felt to me, more or less, hogwash. It was more demagogic than informed,” he said today.

In the late 1980s, Berwick was a founder of the influential Institute for Healthcare Improvement, an organization based on reducing medical errors and waste.

Berwick announced his campaign to be governor of Massachusetts in June while he was out of the state, an unusual political calculation.

But today he spoke to reporters from Charlestown.