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The ills of the NHS highlighted

19th March 2009

Mary Riddell writes in The Telegraph about what the case of Stafford Hospital could entail for the future of the health service.

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The ages of patients who died being treated at Stafford Hospital ranged from a newborn baby to an 81-year-old grandmother.

It is hard to believe that hundreds of patients may have "been prematurely extinguished in understaffed wards, where patients were assessed by receptionists, left untended in filthy beds and compelled to slake their thirst with water from flower vases".

The standards have been compared to "Third World" countries. This is not true - I was in a poor, crowded hospital in Africa last week where deaths were being prevented in a respectful and compassionate setting.

Gordon Brown said that Stafford's case was a "one-off disaster".  We can only wish he is correct.

The NHS has seen its fair share of horrors, including the case at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, where C difficile caused the deaths of 90 people between 2004 and 2006.

However, the events at Stafford are the most awful disgrace to occur recently. The errors were not limited to the accident and emergency department or management.

The problems were also caused by cold-hearted bureaucratic decisions. Although patients were lodging complaints about poor care, the trust in charge of the hospital was awarded "glowing reports" and was on its way to becoming a foundation hospital "in a process that apparently involved clawing back £10 million from patient care".

This concentration on financial imperatives is not limited to Stafford Hospital, says the King's Fund.

The whole fiasco has been incorrectly attributed to "top-down micromanagement". It is easy for the media to say that targets were the cause of the issue.

Stafford's case is one which cannot be blamed completely on targets and government pressure. I think people will understand the "institutional cruelty unveiled this week".

The entire health service is not dreadful -  in fact a great deal of it is commendable. However, in the middle of the credit crunch, the money is being limited and we are returning to the state the NHS was in when Labour came into power.

Tony Blair said "many billions" would be pumped into the health service. Some of the funding was allocated cleverly and some was not.

Alan Johnson has suggested that the recession will limit the funding the NHS receives.

Stafford Hospital is a grim warning that time could turn back for a health service used to regular injections of public funds.

We do not know all the factors which caused the problems at Stafford. It is evident so far "that patients were killed by the triple vaccine of reckless management, effete regulation and inhumanity".

 

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