I’ve written often about the established pattern under this government whereby media criticism of the NHS is used to try to pave the way for attacks on the NHS. It’s been documented indisputably that the right-wing press – with the Telegraph as chief culprit – will co-ordinate its narrative to support moves for privatisation, with editing slips even showing newspaper bosses instructing sub-editors not to remove attack passages from completely unrelated articles. The slip has been removed from the original Telegraph article since I wrote about it, but you can still see full details of the incriminating evidence in my post, and the image is below:
Some 6 weeks ago, based on comments by Jeremy Hunt to the Conservative party conference and to the BBC, as well as orchestrated articles in the Telegraph and other press, I predicted that Jeremy Hunt was going to use the elderly as an excuse for a new wave of attacks on our NHS.
Unfortunately, my prediction is being borne out. Yesterday’s BBC news bulletins highlighted a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on the care provided in hospitals and care homes across the country. Except it didn’t highlight the whole report, but emphasised certain comments in a way that skewed its real emphasis.
To be fair to the BBC, they did at least mention that the report suggests that under-staffing and under-funding are the reasons for the failings it found. But that came as a one or two-line tag-on at the very end of the report. The main headline stated that treatment of the elderly in the NHS was deteriorating, as staff failed to treat the elderly with dignity and respect. But this was far from an accurate representation, as we’ll see shortly.
These days, the BBC plays a tame but minor role in promoting the government’s desired line of propaganda. But the Telegraph has proven to be the most willing collaborator, and therefore the truest indicator of what the government is planning to do and what they want people to start thinking in order for those aims to be achieved.
The Telegraph has gone far further than the BBC, publishing two separate but similar articles, each designed to convey the Party line in slightly different ways:
The first does mention funding as an issue, but blames it on ‘pressures from “reduced economic growth”‘, rather than on the government’s decision to enforce spending cuts – so-called ‘efficiencies’ – and to reduce nurse numbers by 7,000 to date. It lists ‘crimes’ by NHS nurses and carers such as
care staff talking over the person as if they were not there; having things ‘done’ to them, rather than ‘with’ them; and getting people ready for bed at a time that suits the staff rather than the individual people being cared for
The article goes on to give away the key aim of its message:
Independent hospitals, which have much more predictable workloads, performed much better in treating people with dignity and respect, as 98 per cent met the legal minimum standard.
We’ll come back to that in a second, once we’ve looked at the second article, which was even more naked in its goal. It ran under the headline:
Care Quality Commission: budget cuts not to blame as elderly are denied dignity and respect
This article claims that cuts cannot be to blame, because “the majority of institutions that were able to provide good care suffered the same austerity measures“. So it’s down to more fundamental failings: “staff were also badly trained and “poorly deployed”, treating their patients as a list of “tasks” rather than individuals” and “too many nurses and care home staff oversaw “a care culture in which the unacceptable becomes the norm”.”
I’m not going to do a line-by-line analysis of both reports, as this post would become unreadably long. If you can stomach them, follow the links above to the articles and read them, and you’ll soon see for yourself that these articles are utterly disingenuous – and completely transparent once you’re wise to the pattern of how this excuse for a newspaper operates.
They even contradict each other – though both articles were published within a 90-minute period yesterday. While the later article, as we’ve seen, claims loudly that funding cuts are not the cause of the problem because most hospitals providing good care are facing the same problems, the earlier one says:
some NHS hospitals have “struggled to make sure they had enough qualified and experienced staff on duty at all times” who were properly supervised and trained
So, not all hospitals are equal in terms of the challenges they’re facing. NHS hospitals are managed by different boards, with different approaches. Some, such as the South West Cartel or North Tees and Hartlepool, are attempting to solve their problems by attacking staff pay and conditions – destroying morale and demotivating staff, as well as failing to fill vacant positions.
In many cases, even in the hospitals with cowardly and unimaginative boards, staff are making heroic efforts to try to make sure that patients don’t suffer, as the report implicitly acknowledges. But even with the best will and the best efforts, in some hospitals the cuts have bitten so deeply that care is inevitably suffering.
The ‘crimes’ listed by the Telegraph – doing ‘to’ patients rather than ‘with’ them, getting them ready for bed when it ‘suits’ staff rather than patients and so on – are what happens when staff are stretched to the limit just to ensure tasks get done and safety is maintained. Staff – the vast majority of whom want to engage with patients as people and show humanity and compassion to often suffering and frightened patients – are forced to adopt a more ‘conveyor-belt’ approach simply to get done what must be done.
There s no question, to any right-thinking person, that the government’s cuts and attacks on the NHS are the cause of the problems that undoubtedly exist. But that narrative wouldn’t suit the government’s aims, so Jeremy Hunt and his media collaborators tell a different one.
To do this, they’re laying another layer of disingenuousness on top of what they’ve already constructed. Both the BBC and the Telegraph focus on the effects on the elderly of the failings the report identifies. So too does Health Secretary and known collaborator with private interests, Jeremy Hunt:
But this is way too high. We have an ageing population and we want to be a civilised society, this is just totally unacceptable.”
But it’s not only the elderly that suffer if care standards fall. Everyone suffers. For example, the CQC report states that ‘medicines management’ was the most common failing – something that will affect every patient from obstetrics through paediatrics to geriatrics, and from medical to surgical. It’s understandable that staff under pressure of time and workload might cut corners – not locking the controlled drugs cabinet every time they leave it, for instance – in an effort to keep up. But ‘NHS Medicines Management Failings!!’ wouldn’t make great headlines – and wouldn’t fit the government’s purposes.
By focusing on the effects on the elderly – and, critically, by introducing the theme that ‘independent hospitals’ don’t suffer from the failings of ordinary NHS institutions – the media are signalling the Tories’ strategy for the next phase of dismantling the NHS.
Hunt is going to announce – in a similar way to Michael Gove’s drive to create ‘free schools’ – a drive to create ‘free hospitals’, as another step toward breaking up the NHS as a national institution so that it can be devoured by private companies. The first step has already been taken – the conversion of every NHS hospital in the UK to ‘Foundation Trust’ status, which creates much greater fragmentation (or ‘autonomy’, if you’re a Tory privateer).
In addition to this, as I flagged after Hunt’s speech to the Tory conference, Hunt will announce that funding priorities will change to focus more closely on providing care for the elderly – with dignity and the ageing population being the rationale. Since people in richer areas that are more likely to vote Tory also have a greater life expectancy and therefore more elderly people, this will move funding away from working lass, Labour-voting areas, shoring up Tory support in areas where they have a chance of winning seats and starving those who will never vote Tory anyway.
In this way, Hunt is going to attempt to kill three birds with one stone: enriching the Tories’ corporate backers (health providers have donated millions to the Tory party), while enhancing their image in Tory heartlands and marginals – and achieving the Tories visceral, ultimate aim of dismantling the UK’s greatest – and Labour-instigated – achievement for the people as a whole: the NHS.
Replacing comprehensive provision that is free at the point of need with privately-funded provision that many can’t afford, so that the wealthy can save on taxes. Doesn’t that sound exactly like the Tories?