Friday 22 March 2019
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More lessons from Mid Staffs

Headless chickens are queuing up to be roasted at the Mid Staffs Hospital Enquiry. One by one, the people responsible for directing, managing, ignoring or colluding with the dreadful treatment of patients at Stafford General Hospital are questioned. Headless . . . because they lost their brains, morals and feelings. Chickens . . . because they were frightened to stand up for what was right. And roasted . . . because their repugnant methods and behaviour, and their self-interest, cowardice and complicity are being exposed.

Layer upon layer of management-speak (targets, performance management, standards, quality monitoring) are stripped away to reveal the truth that the (so wrongly termed) “Trust” was a sham. No-one could trust it to look after patients.

There were NHS fat cat bosses who sat in their clean offices, took their bonuses, and cut the nursing staff to meet financial targets. There were union bosses who walked around the hospital for three hours - presumably with their eyes shut and their ears plugged - and declared it to be well managed. There was a voluntary organisation which was happy to take a contract to represent patients and investigate their complaints but spent their time on internal organisational issues and ingratiating themselves with the hospital chief executive. The same charity even took money to organise volunteers to feed patients and give them drinks. The volunteers were horrified by what they witnessed but they weren’t listened to.

When nurses and doctors reported incidents and neglect they were ignored or bullied into silence.

This hospital qualified for “Foundation Trust” status - as one witness called it - elevated to “the Premiership”. Nearly all the witnesses admit that the assessment was fixed. The Strategic Health Authority passed on the pressure from government to fiddle the figures to get Foundation status for a hospital that was rotten to the core.

Some witnesses are brutally honest about the hospital, the NHS, and the regulators. Anthony Sumara, the man who has lead the reforms in the hospital, said that he didn’t think the regulators (CQC) would be able either to spot or prevent a similar situation arising. He said “the credibility of the star-rating system is pretty poor” . . . “I don’t think the original star ratings process told you anything about how patients were cared for.” Later he said “people like the SHA (Strategic Health Authority), maybe the PCT and probably some of these other regulators, just did not have either the capacity, the tools or the knowledge to get to the point where they understood what the real risks were in terms of patient care.”

It’s interesting to learn that the Strategic Health Authority (Chief Executive Cynthia Bower) used a computerised risk management system to determine whether this hospital was safe or not. A similar system to the one that is now employed by CQC.

In spite of a change in government, the same callous, top-down culture still dominates health and social care. Many of the same people responsible for Mid Staffs are still in influential posts and some of them are yet to take the witness stand at the enquiry.

This enquiry was blocked by the last Government and is taking place now only because it suits the Coalition Government to blame Labour, and because a small group of people, led by Julie Bailey (Cure the NHS), refused to keep quiet. To remain silent is to collude.

John Burton.