After today’s slightly confusing PMQs line from the Prime Minister about unidentified ‘people’ who ‘should be thinking of their positions’ after the Mid-Staffs scandal, ministers and loyal backbenchers have gone out to bat for the government.
After PMQs, the Prime Minister’s sources refused to say who these ‘people’ were who needed to consider their positions. But now Jeremy Hunt has written a piece for ConHome saying ‘Labour can and will be held accountable for what happened at Mid-Staffs’. He then warns that the party appears to have learned no lessons at all from the Francis Report and that the public shouldn’t trust them again:
‘Labour’s reaction to Mid Staffs has been a deafening silence which is shocking both in its arrogance and complacency. As the Prime Minister said today, David Nicholson has made his apology – it is time for Labour to make theirs. I would go further and say that unless we hear a proper account from Labour, the public will reasonably conclude that similar events could easily happen again if Labour regained power – because the party that used to claim the NHS was safe in its hands is proving by its silence the exact opposite.
‘Labour now has a choice. It can sit back, relieved that David Nicholson is taking the pressure for ministerial decisions they made which had disastrous consequences. Or it can take the harder course of action and accept that a lack of interest in patients by ministers had appalling consequences and that they are willing to learn the necessary lessons. In the absence of the latter, the public will conclude that Shadow Ministers are more interested in defending their personal records than making the changes the NHS so urgently needs.’
Meanwhile Health Select Committee member Chris Skidmore writes on Coffee House that the data on mortality rates should have spurred the Department of Health into action, but it didn’t. He also points to Labour, saying ‘the blame must be turned squarely on Labour health ministers who have been allowed to slip through the net’.
So though his spokespeople couldn’t say this, it seems the Prime Minister was indeed saying that Labour needed to think about its involvement in the scandal. But there is no appetite in government for Sir David Nicholson to stand down just yet.
The chances are, though, that once the critical time for implementing the Health and Social Care Act has passed - which will be by mid-summer – the momentum for Nicholson’s departure will spread from backbench Conservative MPs to ministers, too. Those backing Charlotte Leslie’s campaign might understand if he remains chief executive for that crucial implementation period, but they will be livid if he is still in place by the end of the year. Nicholson himself might have dropped a similar hint on this yesterday when he told the Select Committee:
‘At the moment, the NHS is facing its greatest challenge. In the next few days, we will abolish over 160 organisations and we will set up another 211 local organisations and a whole myriad of national ones. We’ll completely change the way in which we allocate resources and incentivise the NHS. At the same time, we have already lost 13,500 administrative and management staff that have all that corporate memory in them. So it is at maximum risk over the next few days.’
Perhaps once the maximum risk subsides, he will have the opportunity to consider a request from ministers that he go. At which point the row will become about not only the size his payoff, but also whether he too is subject to an infamous ‘gagging order’.Tags: Andy Burnham, Francis report, Jeremy Hunt, Labour, NHS, Sir David Nicholson, Stafford Hospital, UK politics