Between March and October of 2008 an investigation was taking place into the high mortality rate at Stafford hospital, part of the Mid Staffs NHS Foundation Trust. 1200 patients have thought to have died unnecessarily between 2005 and 2009.
This is all ‘old hat’! I hear you cry in unison. No, what it is, is a scandal and it is a scandal too far! It has far reaching implications that go back to the reforms initiated by the Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher. These reforms were thought to be vital at the time because constant tinkering of the NHS by successive previous Governments had done little to improve services, cost or care.
In 1997 ‘New Labour’ inherited a National Health Service that was on its knees, financially and physically. They had a golden opportunity to build on Aneurin Bevan’s dream and rebuild the NHS. Unfortunately these latter-day, pilgrims of the left, were not cut from the same cloth as the idealistic Welshman. No,these were full blown ‘Middle of the Road‘ careerists who used the Health Service as a sounding board for full privatisation. That they saved money and managed to balance the books by the middle of 2007, cannot be denied. Beneath the surface however, the NHS was in turmoil!
In March 2009 a report by the Healthcare Commission, on the failings of the Mid Staffs NHS Trust, heavily criticised the Strategic Health Authority – NHS West Midlands for its handling of the crisis at Stafford hospital. It could be argued that the Mid Staffs NHS Trust deliberately misled the SHA – NHS West Midlands when it stated that it was taking effective action in response to high mortality figures. Just as culpable, one could argue, was the then CEO of the SHA NHS West Midlands, Cynthia Bower, who accepted without scrutiny the trusts account.
Four years on and despite another detailed report by Robert Francis QC, published this year, the whole sorry saga continues.
Stories are emerging of patients being left by medical staff to lie in their own excrement and urine. Patients being so thirsty they have resorted to drinking water from flower vases. Patients phoning their loved ones and pleading with them to bring in food and water. Now, we are told, police have launched an investigation into the death of Gillian Astbury who died in 2007 because nurses failed to administer insulin although they knew she was an insulin dependent diabetic.
Between 2005 and 2009 there were 4253 deaths at Stafford hospital, according to figures published in the Daily Mail. The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, urged the police to investigate the hospital in February of this year. They are now fully reviewing 200 to 300 hundred cases of alleged neglect. At this time there are four doctors and sixteen nurses under investigation. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Over the coming months the police intend to re-examine dozens more cases which they deem ‘suspicious’.
What I find truly outrageous is that, as yet, no managers or Government Ministers or Government officials have been brought to task. They are just as culpable as the front-line staff. I’m not excusing doctors or nurses, they knew that they were signing up to a caring profession and that they owed a duty of care to their patients. However, the directives came from the vast management juggernaut that was the Trust.
As if to prove the culpability of these cowardly cretins who languished in the background, it now emerges that hundreds of NHS whistleblowers were paid off to keep their silence. Patients were needlessly dying in the wards and these people took their filthy ‘thirty pieces of silver’ rather than stick with the courage of their convictions. Disgusting! To me, they are as bad as the people and malpractices that they were going to expose.
This was all brought into the open when Gary Walker, former Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Hospital Trust, exposed the practice of ‘judicial payments’. He revealed that he was paid £500,000 to go quietly, under judicial mediation, from his post. It has now been revealed that even more of these secret severance payments were made. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, MP Steve Barclay has discovered that 32 hospitals have paid £2million to 52 staff in judicial payments in the three years to March 2013. Six more hospitals have admitted similar ‘gagging’ orders and another fifty hospitals have not replied. Just how much taxpayers money has been paid to keep this scandal quiet?
When he had to answer to an influential Commons Committee, NHS Chief Executive, Sir David Nicholson, stated that Gary Walker was a ‘one off’ case. This hearing took place in March, in February two consultants were paid £300,000 and £265,000 respectively to keep them quiet. Is it any surprise that the Coalition are now asking him to explain himself and the organisation, of which heads, yet again!
Quite rightly, there are calls for Sir David Nicholson to be held responsible for the atrocious way patients and their families were treated at hospitals within the Mid Staffs NHS Trust. I would ask. What about his boss? Nicholson may well have been the overseer of policy but he wasn’t the architect. In my opinion, the police should be knocking on office doors in Westminster and asking questions of the previous Labour Administration.
Remember these words from a few days ago? “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”.
Well, it would appear that if you work in the National Health Service, having something to hide pays very handsomely indeed!
We are told that if hospital management or doctors and nurses under investigation are found guilty of a criminal offence such as breaching the Health & Safety Act they could face a maximum jail sentence of two years with the hospital facing the prospect of unlimited fines.
In my opinion, investigators should be digging much deeper and casting a much wider net. From the stories coming out of Stafford hospital alone, there must be cases of willful neglect to answer! All the smug managers singing; ♬It wasn’t me♫, need to be looking over their shoulders because their denial at knowledge of patient neglect is contradicted by the hundreds of incident reports that were submitted and which must have passed across their desks. Under the Corporate Manslaughter Laws, passed in 2008, these simpering deniers and the sniveling Government officials who also professed ignorance could find themselves in very serious trouble indeed.
The whole system, judging by recent revelations, is rotten to the core and no amount of tinkering is going to put it right. Paying off managers, consultants, doctors, nurses and the needless deaths of vulnerable patients is testament to this. Mis-guided, ill-thought out Government intervention has created a monster that is now out of control. I do believe that it is not too late to save it but radical new thinking is needed. I know that the Private Sector have been itching to get their grubby hands on the NHS for years but a look at their track record should be enough to put anyone off.
It is the methods of the Private Sector which have brought the NHS down. Minimal front-line staff, paucity of beds, inadequate facilities for the older generation, A&E cut-backs, private ambulance services, inefficient, dedicated phone lines, over-paid medical staff and a bureaucracy which ensures that no blame can be laid on the hospital.
Whatever lies and spin our career politicians want to put on it, they have modeled the NHS on the Private Sector with the view of offloading it piece by piece. It is a disgrace and, in my opinion, successive Governments have been as much to blame for the unfortunate deaths and consequential grief caused by their cavalier approach to National Healthcare in this country as the present day over-paid managers who run the NHS.
Heads need to roll and quickly. We have had too many inquiries which conclude that collective mistakes led to the problems and that ‘lessons have been learned.’ The present-day culture of ‘no blame’ has got to stop. Is it any wonder that people have lost faith in politicians and Government bodies? We have been lied to for too long and now it appears that these lies have caused the deaths of innocent people. Should the police find that to be true, no stone must be left unturned in order to bring all concerned to book.
Judging by the reports coming out of the NHS and from campaigners, such as Julie Bailey, the the scandal goes much deeper than the near fifteen hundred words I have written here describe. To me, it has gone further than the scandal it evidently is, it is a National Disgrace! Health Ministers, past and present, along with NHS managers should be holding their heads in shame!
I am not nor ever have been a Socialist but even I have to admire the fine ideals upon which the National Health Service was launched. If it ever was a shining beacon, the light went out years ago!