As the Mid-Staffs tragedy unfurls, it becomes more and more apparent that contrary to the insistence of former Labour Ministers and Prime Ministers, this was not an isolated case, but an appalling example of problems evident throughout the NHS.
Indeed, back in 2008, the then Labour Government received reports from respected international health consultants warning of a culture of fear and compliance within the NHS; a place where the emphasis was on ‘hitting the targets, but missing the point’ and patient safety came second to presenting a set of statistics suitable for dispatch-box delivery.
Ironically, these reports had been commissioned to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the NHS, but far from presenting something to celebrate, the reports laid bare the same problems existing across the NHS that Francis described in his report on Mid Staffs, five years later.
Instead of publishing and acting upon these reports, the then Labour Government and the Department of Health buried the alarming truth about the state of the NHS. Even the Health Select Committee weren’t allowed to see them. They were only revealed two years later through a freedom of information request from Policy Exchange.
To give some idea about the effect the burying of these damning reports had on patients, consider this: in the time between the presentation of these reports to Ministers, and the General Election in 2010, the number of excess deaths recorded across the 15 Trusts now under investigation by Sir Bruce Keogh was approximately 2,800. If urgent and effective action had been taken, at the very least, some of these lives might have been saved.
But despite talk of transparency and accountability, there seems no sign of consequences for those responsible for patient safety. In any other organisation where errors and shoddy practice had cost thousands of lives, those in charge would be held to account.
I have tabled an Early Day Motion calling for the man who was in charge of the Strategic Health Authority overseeing Mid Staffs and who was later running the NHS when the 2008 damning reports were buried, to be held to account – and support for it is building amongst MPs. If responsibility in the NHS is to mean anything at all, David Nicholson must go.
But just as it is false to claim that the problem is a one-off in Mid-Staffs, when it is an NHS-wide issue, it would also be a mistake to assume that calls for accountability are just about one man. It is not. The EDM is about making a stand against an entire culture, and calling to account all those — former Ministers, officials, medics and highly paid managers, who were negligent in their duty to protect patient safety.
Words are cheap and don’t bring loved-ones back to their bereaved families. The hackneyed political phrase ‘learning lessons’ must result in action and taking responsibility. Parliament and the public should expect no less, if we are to safeguard and protect those elements of the NHS that rightly make us proud: those many dedicated medics and nurses, (many of whom were suppressed in their whistle-blowing efforts to protect their patients) and care available regardless of ability to pay. We owe it to those who died to take make sure this tragedy transforms our health-system culture. Lives, quite literally, depend on it.
Charlotte Leslie is the MP for Bristol North West
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