Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Mid Staffs

Some things matter more than party politics and today’s report into the horrific events at Stafford Hospital is one of them. Between 400 and 1200 people died unnecessarily, and many hundreds more received treatment so appalling that it will haunt them for the rest of their lives. The managers in charge of the hospital did not address the failings, but instead attempted to cover up them up, showing a shocking lack of human empathy for the people in their care.

Between 2005 and 2009 patients in the hospital were left literally starving, unwashed for up to a month and reduced to drinking water from flower vases, because staff members were unable or unwilling to care for them. Patients were assessed by receptionists, and many people were killed after receiving either the wrong medication or none at all.

Disturbingly, none of this was picked up by NHS quality control procedures, and only came to light when the daughter of an elderly patient who had died after being refused life saving medicine, having suffered terribly for weeks, wrote to the local paper and asked if anyone else had had a similar experience. It is perhaps instructive to note that this bereaved whistleblower received hate mail for her troubles.

The picture that has emerged from multiple enquires into the hospital is deeply disturbing. What appears to have happened is that the hospital managers, the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, cut staffing levels in an already understaffed hospital in order to meet government targets which would allow them to gain the coveted “Foundation Trust” status. The Trust's focus was entirely on bureaucratic targets and not on patient care, which seems to have been forgotten altogether. When concerns were raised about the hospitals high death rate in 2008 the Trust did not act on them, but instead dismissed them as “coding errors”. Remember that at this point in time, people were needlessly suffering and dying on a shocking scale. Statistics mattered, people did not.

This is not a story about cuts or austerity. This happened at a time when the NHS was better funded than at any point in its history. It is a story about the total failure of NHS management procedures and indeed the whole culture of the NHS to ensure that users of the service received even a basic standard of care, dignity or empathy. The management structure and culture that failed so disastrously at Stafford Hospital is the same management structure and culture which governs the rest of the NHS. If it has been shown to fail this badly then it must be reformed. That is beyond question. However devoted you are to “defending our NHS”, it must be clear that this is not what Nye Bevan had in mind when he set it up. Make no mistake, this is a dark day for the health service.

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