I wrote some weeks ago that the government was going to use Mid Staffs as a template in entirely the wrong way. The unquestioned problems with poor care in 3 wards (out of many) at Stafford hospital have been addressed and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has inspected the hospital twice in the space of 9 months and found that it was meeting all required standards. The obvious conclusion for a genuinely pro-NHS government would be to use Mid Staffs as a model for how to turn a struggling hospital around, and use the lessons learned to do the same at others.
Instead, having created and nurtured the myth that hundreds of people died ‘needlessly’ at Stafford hospital to erode public affection for the broader NHS, the government chose to put the hospital into administration and appoint a team of ‘independent’ administrators to decide how to break up its services – the same people who had come up with the original plan to close it and share its patients among other over-stretched hospitals.
Jeremy Hunt’s recent speech in response to the Francis Report completely ignored the most important, and most often repeated, conclusion of the report – that understaffing was the cause of poor care. Instead, he announced unrealistic measures to disguise his real purpose: setting up hospitals to fail – and then putting struggling hospitals into ‘failure regimes’ designed to lead to their closure.
The government had already targeted 14 hospitals for ‘special measures’ for supposed similarities to Stafford’s ‘HSMR’ mortality statistics – statistics based on data so deeply flawed that last year 17,000 episodes of obstetric (pregnancy) treatments were supposedly given to men – 10% of Englands NHS hospitals.
But the government is in a hurry to pull down as much of the NHS as it can before the next election, and the scope of its ambition is staggering. The Guardian has revealed that no less than 50 English hospitals – 36% of the total – are being targeted for lengthy ‘special investigations’ because of supposed ’cause for concern over care standards’.
And that’s just the ‘first wave’ of inspections under Hunt’s new
hatchet man Chief Inspector of Hospitals.
The unseemly rush is clearly on – the Tories don’t expect to be in government after the next election, and its front bench is absolutely intent on dismantling as much as the NHS as it can in the two years remaining before the next general election.
It becomes more essential every day for those who value the NHS for the national treasure it is to get involved and take action to protect it. If you’re such a person and want to take action, here are some suggestions:
- 40,000 or more Stafford people are expected to take to the streets on Saturday in spite of expected high winds and rain, to campaign to keep the hospital they love and value open. They know that a ‘hatchet job’ has been done to bring their hospital to the brink of extinction, and they’re not fooled. If you can get there, why not support them and join the march? They have a Facebook page where you can find out more. Please join if you can – it could be your hospital next.
- Visit CCGWatch.org.uk to find out about other threats to the NHS as a public service – and consider donating to the effort. The CCGWatch founding principles apply just as much to the attacks by Monitor and the Dept of Health on hospitals as they do to the activities of CCGs, and because CCGWatch aims to honour the principle of the NHS and provide its assistance ‘free at the point of need’, it urgently needs funds for the effort.
- Find out what’s happening in your area – whether to your local hospital or to other health services. The local offices of the health unions (Unite, GMB, Unison) would be a good starting point – ask them for an update.
- Use the FOI Act. Darkness is a friend to those who want to chip (or chop) away at our NHS services. Put in Freedom of Information requests to your local hospital and CCG to find out what’s happening and what is being planned. You can easily submit and monitor FOI requests via whatdotheyknow.com.
- Write to your MP – of whichever party – and demand that they do everything to protect NHS services locally and nationally. Don’t be fobbed off with platitudes – ask for specifics about what they are doing, and challenge anything you don’t like or which seems like lip-service.
- There will be many, many ways to get involved that I don’t know about. Find out what’s happening in your area, and just jump in! You’ll get to know lots of great people, and you’ll become what this government fears the most – an informed citizen prepared to make noise and take action.