This won’t be an easy post to write, but recent events have persuaded me that it can’t be avoided. Some nasty stuff has been going on, and the only right response to bullies is to stand up to them.
Julie Bailey, the founder of ‘Cure the NHS’ (Cure), is treated as almost a saint by most of the media, who are currently portraying her as a poor, ‘hounded’ heroine who is being so viciously victimised by the people of Stafford who are outraged by her righteous campaign that she is being driven out of town, forced to leave in order to avoid supposed ‘threats’.
But the reality is somewhat different from its portrayal.
Those who follow this blog will know that I’ve had more than one run-in with Cure. Just in recent weeks, Cure supporters on Twitter (who have blocked me to try to prevent any response) have tried to smear me to prominent people commenting on articles that have nothing to do with ‘Cure’ or Stafford, and ‘accused’ me of writing Andy Burnham’s blog, as if that would be incriminating even if it were true.
Last week, my Twitter account was briefly suspended after what appears to have been a malicious complaint by a Cure supporter – who then appears to have done the same to someone else who ‘dared’ to tweet a comment defending me against one of his accusations, within minutes of the ‘pro-Steve’ comment being posted. Twitter do not reveal the source of complaints, so it’s impossible to say for sure – but the suspension of someone’s account minutes after defending me, just after my own account was suspended, seems unlikely to be mere coincidence.
The ‘Burnham blog’ comment is worth examining, and we’ll start with that because it’s the least depressing. Here are the tweets in question:
and here are the people who retweeted it – including Julie Bailey:
The only problem is, it’s nonsense. The article to which the tweeter linked is not ‘Burnham’s blog’. It’s the blog of the ‘Think Left’ thinktank – and the linked article is an article of mine about possible tampering with Parliamentary records, which the site’s admin ‘reblogged’ and decided to archive in the section containing articles that mention Andy Burnham.
Either the tweeter (and retweeters) can’t read – or else they’re so deluded that they can only see what they want to see. Neither is a great characteristic in campaigners who expect to be regarded as agenda-setters for something as important as the NHS. But it gets darker.
Last weekend, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Clare Gerada, ‘retweeted’ a link to an article of mine about the distortion of statistics by the DWP – in other words, nothing to do with Cure, or Stafford, or even the NHS:
The individuals above felt the need to try to blacken my name to Ms Gerada even though my article had nothing whatever to do with anything at Stafford. It’s up to Clare whether she decides to pay attention to these slurs or not, and I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself what to make of them – but to me at least it smacks of a certain desperation and cowardice to resort to such tactics without even including me in the message so that I’d know what was being said. But then, bullies usually are cowardly.
It’s not only Ms Bailey’s supporters who resort to such measures, sadly. Once again, Clare Gerada is involved – but this time she’s the target. Ms Gerada made the perfectly rational and reasonable observation that the only way to be sure whether a given death was avoidable is a careful, clinical review of the case notes:
The comment was not addressed to Ms Bailey, nor was she mentioned in it. But she felt entitled not only to disagree with it, but to call it ‘distasteful’, as well as ‘out of touch’. Quite how calling a proper investigation the only way to decide on an issue can be ‘out of touch’ is puzzling – but to call such a measured comment distasteful is entirely typical of Cure’s histrionic and aggressive approach to any dissent.
All of this serves to paint a very different picture to that of the saintly, put-upon woman portrayed by the media – usually in articles that go on to bash the NHS rather than trying to ‘cure’ it. But this stuff is merely an irritant, at least to me – I’m sufficiently long in the tooth not to be overly troubled by it.
There is a far more shameful aspect to this ‘bullying culture’, though. A Stafford woman has been a target of Cure’s ire for presenting a very different and far more rational perspective on events at Mid Staffs via her blog. This lady also took the trouble to sit through almost every session of testimony to Robert Francis’ public inquiry. Privately and publicly, she speaks with understanding and even sympathy for Cure – but the mere fact of disagreeing with them has been enough to earn her their enmity.
In recent weeks, this enmity has been fanned into outright hatred by one simple development: the fact that my articles on Mid Staffs drew attention to one of her articles in which she stated, as a witness at the meeting, that Julie Bailey called for Cure to get the hospital closed and all its staff sacked.
Since the huge groundswell of support among the people of Stafford for their hospital, Ms Bailey has claimed that her efforts have only been to save the hospital – so the idea that she called for its closure in a clearly vengeful outburst is a significant embarrassment.
So the knives have been out, both among Cure’s supporters and by Ms Bailey herself. Considering her recent claims to have been ‘hounded’ out of Stafford by bullying and abuse, she seems extraordinarily ready to use similar tactics. Here are some examples from Twitter, either written by Ms Bailey directly, or else by her supporters (and often ‘retweeted’ by her):
A particularly strident one from Gary Walker, the ‘whistleblower’ whose Twitter name has long caused me to wonder about his mindset, was retweeted by a number of Cure supporters in an attempt to spread the intimidation:
The blog to which he links is a claim by someone who was at the fateful meeting – as an ally of Cure – that Ms Bailey made no such calls for the closure of the hospital. However, I can reveal that a number of witnesses who were there that night – as supporters of Cure – have contacted ‘mulberrybush’ to offer their testimony that Ms Bailey did indeed say exactly what was claimed.
A supporter supporting the person he supports, or previous adversaries supporting the ‘enemy’s version of events – which is more credible?
The supposed refutation of the claim also contains a serious misjudgement. It questions ‘mulberrybush’s recollection of events on the basis that the blog was written 3 years later. However, the blog was written from notes made on the night, while details were still vivid.
The ‘wall of shame’
Cure’s ‘wall of shame’ is well known, and has featured prominently in newspaper articles. The wall contains pictures of people whom Cure has targeted for campaigns for their removal for their supposed crimes in relation to Stafford hospital and Cure’s lost relatives. But it has also contained at least one person whose ‘crime’ was nothing more than to condemn Cure’s tactics in an online debate. The wall did not only contain his name, but also his personal contact details including his phone number.
Perhaps you can think of an innocent reason for this, but I haven’t thought of one yet. If you put someone’s personal number on a ‘wall of shame’, it invites – deliberately or recklessly – nuisance or threatening phone calls, which is just what happened. Cure refused to remove the personal details until forced to by the threat of legal action.
So, it appears that far from being the benign and well-meaning victims of bullying, Cure don’t like it when anyone contradicts them – and they are no strangers to using aggressive and even probably-libellous tactics to silence dissent.
The ‘hounding’ article and other nonsense
On 30 May, the ‘Coffee House’ of the Tory Spectator magazine carried an article under the ironic headline of “Julie Bailey: Enemy of the People“. Far from being an attack on Ms Bailey, the article was a concerted assault on the people of the town of Stafford, painting them as vicious bullies who have driven a poor, innocent woman from her home by their threats and intimidation.
The following day, I was contacted via my blog by someone closely linked to Ms Bailey. What this person, who pleaded with me to keep them anonymous because of the consequences if it became known who had contacted me, wrote was striking:
I have just read your whole article and feel like it was a blast of fresh air..and you have hit the nail on the head when you highlight the grief and emotional factors of this individual.
Only yesterday an article in the paper claims that she is being forced out of the area of where she has lived all her life? I am confused as I know with 100% certainty that she lived in South Wales for nearly 16 years where she worked..in social services and even ran a nursing home for some time? none of this has ever been in the press?? She also states to be forced out of the area, I know that she has been planning on moving to Dubai to be near her son following the birth of her grandchild for the last 18 months!
She also claims that she has had to sell her house? she has never owned a house since her divorce which was prior to the loss of her mother and finally on her own website, her relatives quoted in saying we miss Grandmother as used to spend every friday with her eating fish and chips? Again do not know how this was possible as Grandmother lived in Wales with them for 16 years!
Quite a list of discrepancies between the stories presented by the media (and by Ms Bailey on her own site) and the reality behind them, it seems.
An undiscerning eye
Another crucial aspect of the myth is the quite astonishing lack of critical thinking by interviewers and editors when interviewing Ms Bailey or relating her stories.
I’ve already written about her remarkable statements to a BBC Radio 4 programme, in which she claimed to have sat with her mother in hospital, listening to fallen, distressed patients in the next room – more than once – for so long that they eventually fell quiet. She related this scenario to point a finger at nursing staff and their supposed lack of compassion – but the interviewer completely failed to do his journalistic job and challenge how she could simply sit and let injured people cry for help until they went silent.
If you or I heard someone fall and cry out in distress, we wouldn’t sit and tut about the nurses’ slow response – we’d go to help ourselves, or go and find a nurse. Or, if we felt we simply couldn’t leave our relative alone for even a moment, we’d stand in the doorway and shout – and shout and shout – until someone heard, and came to help.
Her own words must at least raise the suspicion that either Ms Bailey lacks the very compassion whose supposed absence in others she so loudly decries, or else she was embellishing her story for effect. Either way, either her credibility or her sincerity are fatally wounded by words from her own lips.
There is another, similar incident that bears examination – this one in the Daily Mirror, which really should know better than to promote misleading information and play into the hands of those who want the NHS ended. Under a lurid headline, we see a typical ‘stoical but tortured’ picture of Ms Bailey:
‘I’ve been spat at and threatened because I care’. Dramatic stuff. But do the details bear it out?
The article begins with a melodramatic statement:
It used to just be my mum’s voice I heard in my dreams,” says this pint-sized powerhouse who has taken on the NHS over the 1,200 deaths in Mid Staffs and kicked its inefficient ass into the public arena.
But now there are so many voices in my head, so many stories, they’ve all become confused.
But they’re always there, always driving me on, telling me I mustn’t let what happened to them happen to anyone else.
Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether the press should be promoting the views and wishes of a woman who, by her own admission, hears voices. A more key point comes next:
It’s been five years since Julie’s 86-year-old mum, Bella, died at Stafford Hospital.
And it was the terror in Bella’s eyes that last terrible night as she lay dying on a filthy ward begging for painkillers that never came, that Julie made a promise to herself.
She vowed that no more vulnerable people would die the way Bella had… without care and compassion in a place where they had every right to expect it and to feel safe.
Hang on. Julie Bailey was with her mother on the night of her death. She had to be, in order to see the ‘terror in Bella’s eyes’. Yet her mum begged ‘for painkillers that never came‘. What?!
I was with my mother as she died. Her care was very good, and her pain was well managed. But if she had been in pain and begging for painkillers, and nobody came to administer pain relief, it wouldn’t matter if I had to march out of the room and bring a nurse in an armlock – under no circumstances would my mother have lain until she died without receiving what she needed.
Yet nobody from the Mirror thought to query the claim or draw attention to its significance.
Radio 4, the Mirror, other media – all seem prepared to propagate obviously problematic statements by Cure and its founder without challenge, without even thought.
I bear Ms Bailey and Cure no personal ill-will. I sincerely believe that at least some of Cure’s supporters are mentally ill, and deserving of pity. I think that at least one of them is exhibiting Munchhausen’s – a syndrome whereby the afflicted person courts suffering, or the perception of it, in order to receive attention and to elicit a positive response from others.
But somebody has to be prepared to call attention to the obvious discrepancies between what is portrayed and what underlies it – and to Cure’s bullying tactics and the glaring problems with its claims regarding what happened at Stafford hospital.
I take no pleasure in it falling to me to do it. But that doesn’t relieve me of the obligation.
And if you try to access my Twitter feed and find that my account is suspended, you’ll have a good idea why.