Recall, if you would, the giant news headlines which erupted when the Stafford Hospital Saga unfolded. Patients attempting to drink water in vases with flowers in them. Patients screaming in agony, but left to the tender care of receptionists, and of so-called nurses who switched off health-diagnostic and -treatment machinery because they did not understand the workings. The two enquiries, one internal, one public, exposed the dreadful defects of a NHS organisation which was pushing for Foundation Trust status, a promotion which does not mean much to the wider public, but to the senior management of Stafford Hospitals, it meant only one thing; Loads and loads of bloody MONEY. They could run their own systems, they could depend upon a distinct lack of supervision, and they could set their own Rates of Pay and Pensions!
Robert Francis QC, chairman of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry, heard that at Stafford, NHS targets ruled supreme. NHS managers staffed the hospital so thinly that there were never enough consultants to properly supervise junior doctors, who took many of their instructions from the senior nurses and matrons who enforced the targets. Orders were cascaded down the management hierarchy, from the executive board, to the operational managers, to the senior nurses and matrons; nurses and doctors who failed to meet them were threatened with the sack.
It led to junior nurses and doctors abandoning seriously-ill patients to treat minor cases who were in danger of breaching the four-hour Accident & Emergency (A&E) waiting time limit. For the same reason, patients were often moved out of casualty covered in their own waste because the target – to admit or discharge patients within four hours – was under threat. Meanwhile, nurses were instructed by senior nurse colleagues to falsify waiting times, and to claim that patients had been seen more quickly than they were.
But after the scandals were uncovered, and they began to count up the dead, a strange silence settled over the entire institution. No one was set before a Court; no-one was fired, or dismissed with cause. Many senior staff either moved on to bigger and better posts; indeed one, Sir David Nicholson; the boss of the Strategic Authority who actually ran the hospital, went on to become the chief executive of the NHS; and you simply cannot get less an effort at condemnation than that.
So, one would believe that all the ‘lessons have been learned’ eh? All the anodyne statements were placed on record, the Care Quality bunch of bureaucrats swore on the huge pile of signed ‘target compliance’ forms that this would never happen again, bloggers such as we, prodded the NHS corporate bodies just to ensure that there was still life present; some newspapers pushed as well; and it all slowly subsided into the mists of time, the mists which also obscured the lists of the dead and the maltreated.
And then we get the first stirrings of a scandal which could be even worse than Staffs: when the Mail produces this story, which reads like the first chapters of a murder mystery, complete with its very own Doctor Death!