Stafford hospital, which has been wrongly and repeatedly accused of causing the avoidable deaths of 400-1200 of its patients, faces closure or severe downgrade because of its supposed clinical and financial ‘unsustainability’, even though it was ahead of financial targets agreed in early 2012 with both Monitor and the Dept of Health (DH) and is now one of the clinically best-performing District General Hospitals in England.
Over 50,000 people marched last month in support of the hospital, and the ‘Support Stafford Hospital‘ campaign has become a model for other campaigns in both its organisation and its level of motivation. Nonetheless, the Trust Special Administrators (TSAs) appointed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for the ‘consultation’ on the recommendations to close the hospital and transfer its patients to other, not-very-nearby hospitals is almost certain to confirm the original decision – because the TSAs are the very same people who made it.
So far, so fishy. But the deception and confusion over the process and decision about Stafford’s future goes further yet. In the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, though not many people are aware of it, the Health Secretary (then Andrew Lansley) tried to end his duty for providing healthcare to UK people, putting himself at arms-length from any direct responsibility or blame. He was forced to back down on it to get his lamentable bill through Parliament – but the DH doesn’t seem quite to have got the memo about that, and there appears to be substantial confusion about just exactly who is ultimately going to make the decision about Stafford’s future.
TSA Alan Bloom had stated, very clearly, in one of the public meetings held with Staffordians that, following the 45-day consultation, the TSAs would make a recommendation to the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) which would then be passed to the Health Secretary for approval.
However, a local resident, who had written to Jeremy Hunt asking for clarification of the process, received the following letter in reply:
Our ref: DE00000777063
Dear Mrs Wyke,
Thank you for your correspondence of 24 April to the Department of Health about the future of Stafford Hosptial . I have been asked to reply.
I have noted your concerns on this issue. However, I should explain that the Government believes that the provision of local healthcare services is a matter for the local NHS and it would therefore not be appropriate for the Department or its ministers to become involved in this matter.
You may be aware that on 15 April, the independent regulator of NHS services, Monitor, announced the appointment of the Trust Special Administrator (TSA) to safeguard the future of health services currently provided by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The TSA took over the running of the Trust on 16 April and will work with commissioners and other local healthcare organisations to produce a plan for the reorganisation and sustainable delivery of health services.
The TSA now has 45 working days in which to design a way of providing patient services in the area that is sustainable in the long term. Local clinical commissioners have already indicated which services must remain in the area under the new plan and the TSA will take this into account.
The plan will then be subject to local consultation and I would urge you to take part in this process.
If you have any further concerns, I would encourage you to contact the Trust directly at:
Staffordshire General Hospital
Stafford ST16 3SA
I hope this reply is helpful.
Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries
Department of Health
So much for the front presented by the DH to the public. But clearly the TSAs believe that any decision they might want to make is subject approval or veto by the Health Secretary.
Would the TSAs get this impression out of thin air, or is Jeremy Hunt telling his department to tell the public it’s a local decision while covertly wishing to make sure that only a decision is reached that is in line with the government’s overall plans and its overall aim to use Stafford as a template for the closure of a huge percentage of England’s acute hospitals?
Given Hunt’s and the Conservatives’ track record on truth-telling and their thinly-disguised but little-reported desire to dismantle the NHS, I know what I think – there’s no question that Hunt intends to do everything he can get away with doing to ensure that the future of Stafford is a foregone conclusion. That means that the people of Stafford – and everyone else who cares about the NHS – needs to raise the profile of the issue in every way possible to ensure that the political cost of proceeding with this and other closures is more than he can decide to live with.