Last Monday, I attended a semi-clandestine meeting in Stafford. This meeting was to allow Guardian journalist Randeep Ramesh to meet Stafford hospital staff and some of those who have campaigned to save the hospital or to correct the culpably inaccurate portrayal of Stafford as a hospital that ‘killed’ hundreds of its patients, as preparation for an article that would finally, finally, begin to bring the long-overdue refutation of the misleading narrative into the mainstream.
This article, which has now been published and which became the ‘Society’ sections most read of the preceding 24 hours within a couple of hours of its publication, represents an important step in the right direction, as the supposed ‘facts’ of Stafford begin to be challenged in the professional media.
As I predicted a couple of weeks ago, the media and the government over-reached themselves when they lied about the Keogh report, before its publication, by claiming that it would highlight 13,000 deaths in just 14 NHS hospitals.
The Guardian had planned to run a major article on the illegitimacy of the claims about mortality at Stafford on 5 July, to coincide with the NHS’ 65th birthday, but one reporter had persuaded the responsible editor that the death claims could be trusted.
However, that changed last week. The fact that Bruce Keogh himself, even before his report was published, disowned these deliberately-hysterical claims in the clearest possible terms, and the report when published was even more blunt, made it impossible to doubt, with credibility, that mortality statistics are deliberately being distorted by media and government as a propaganda weapon against the NHS.
It’s taken long enough. But it’s hard to mistake the import of this statement from Keogh’s report:
it is clinically meaningless and academically reckless to use such statistical measures to quantify actual numbers of avoidable deaths
The Guardian published a story quickly highlighting the nonsense of the pre-Keogh propaganda – yet finished its article by failing to make the obvious logical connection: that if the claims about the 14 hospitals were nonsense being abused for ideological purposes, then the same was very likely to apply to the claims around Mid Staffs. The article concluded:
The Francis report came close to suggesting minimum staffing levels and showed how inadequate staffing levels at Stafford hospital were a key factor in what the then NHS watchdog the Healthcare Commission estimated to be between 400 and 1,200 extra deaths between 2005 and 2009.
The article’s author got his facts hopelessly wrong, too, since the HCC never at any point published any such estimate, and the figures were ‘leaked’ by an unknown source to newspapers who immediately treated it as fact. But in the article published today, the Guardian finally started to join the dots and get the right resulting picture:
Meanwhile, the first inkling nationally that the numbers of supposed NHS deaths may have been overblown was when doctors this month accused Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, of attempting to “make political capital” out of hospital death rate data.
It also quotes Professor Brian Jarman as finally stating clearly in print that the use of his statistics to claim avoidable deaths is an abuse of the figures, which is well past due.
I would have loved to see a much more appropriately emphatic statement. There is no ‘may have been’ – the death figures were unfounded when they were leaked, and the way in which the right-wing media – and politicians as senior as David Cameron – have regularly repeated them as fact is nothing short of disgraceful. But it’s a start.
The article confirms a number of facts that were first publicised on the SKWAWKBOX, against the prevailing media portrayal:
- that the sensationalist claims of patients routinely drinking from flower vases was impossible. There may have been one isolated instance of a confused patient finding a vase and drinking from it because he was on restricted fluids for medical reasons – but as a generality it could not happen, as vases were not allowed on wards since the 1990s.
- that claims that receptionists performed ‘triage’ (emergency medical assessment) on A&E patients is nonsense: receptionists entered their name against records because the system would not allow them to complete a registration unless there was a name in the name field.
- that a big part of Stafford’s inflated HSMR figure was down to inadequate coding.
- that claims of ‘gaming’ of stats, and particularly the Z51.5 ‘palliative care’ code, were unfounded – the under-used code was merely corrected and was within expected limits.
and more. From a purely personal point of view, it would have been nice to see this blog credited as the original source of the information (the Guardian has slipped a few times in that regard in the last couple of weeks), but I understand that in this case it’s simply an editing error that should be corrected on Monday.
All in all, Randeep Ramesh has done a very good job of presenting a corrected view of both the situation at Mid Staffs and the way the government and media have misused NHS mortality statistics – and he deserves great credit for being the first high-profile journalist to both understand the true situation and to be prepared to publish on it.
This is a vital first step in correcting a massive wrong, and putting right a deep and vast deception perpetrated on the British public.
But there is much further to go. The people of Stafford still face losing their hospital and services when the ‘Trust Special Administrators’ announce their recommendations this Wednesday, and are likely to have to resort to judicial review to have a chance of saving services that the misrepresented statistics have been used to weaken and prepare for sell-off, so I urge you to support their cause in any way you can – because it’s your cause, too, and your hospital will be next, sooner or later.
It’s now also up to other media outlets to grasp the nettle and to start to correct their own misrepresentations and those of the obvious culprits like the Mail, Telegraph and Express who will never even consider correcting their distortions – and of course of Cameron, Hunt and co who have exploited them without conscience at every opportunity – and I understand that other media are in fact now lining up to take their turn at this story now that the Guardian has broken the ‘MSM’ (mainstream media) ice.
Anything I see in that regard will, of course, be flagged on this blog. But please make sure to tweet, facebook and email far and wide any articles you see yourself, as I might miss them – and it’s vital that we don’t miss this opportunity both to correct the distorted picture that has hitherto prevailed, and to put the blame for the distortion where it belongs: squarely on the shoulders of Cameron and his gang of mini-Goebbels, the complicit media and others who have all too readily screamed ‘needless deaths’ to undermine our NHS.