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Chris Skidmore MP : Mid-Staffs laid bare the cost in lives of Labour’s time in charge of the NHS

SKIDMORE CHRISChris Skidmore is the Member of Parliament for Kingswood and a Member of the Health and Education Select Committees.  Follow Chris on Twitter.

For a party that will even take falling unemployment as an excuse to attack the government Labour have been deathly quiet in response to the shocking revelations about what went wrong in the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust. They have good reason to be, for the Francis report laid bare the cost in lives of Labour’s time in charge of the NHS.

As we now know there was failure at regional and national levels in the NHS. At the Mid-Staffordshire trust this resulted in as many as 1,200 avoidable deaths between 2005 and 2009. One cannot fail to be moved when one hears the harrowing accounts from the families of those who died needlessly due to systemic failure and a culture which put up with inexcusably low standards of care.

Labour, and their target-centred, reorganisation-heavy approach to the NHS, which did so much to sap morale and incentivise bad behaviour, should be taking their share of the blame for the crisis. A crisis, it is striking to note, that happened in a trust which, in a move proposed by then junior minister Andy Burnham, had been awarded the supposed gold-standard of Foundation Trust status.

Rather than be held to account Labour and Andy Burnham have desperately tried to brush this all under the carpet. As health secretary Andy Burnham ordered the first inquiry into the incident as reports of avoidable deaths came to the public’s attention. Its highly constrained terms of reference and private hearings gave Andrew Lansley cause to warn parliament at the time that it was an inquiry ‘designed more to focus on local management than to get to the full truth and the full context of the tragedy at Stafford hospital’.

In the two years after warnings about the poor standard of care had started to surface Andy Burnham and Alan Johnson received and ignored a staggering 81 requests for a public inquiry. The sad fact is this desperation not to face up to their failure will have come at the cost of further loss of life as the initial reports scope was not large enough to truly solve the problem.

In October 2010, two years after the crisis was revealed, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent regulator of all health and social care services in England, had to warn that Mid Staffs was still not up to standard in 11 areas set out in law in order to maintain care quality in hospitals. In that period, across the NHS, 2,800 more people had died than would be expected. One cannot escape the fact that had we not had to wait two years for a full inquiry we could have learnt the lessons earlier; without question lives could have been saved.

With their full failure exposed Labour are now resorting to an audible silence. They hope the storm will blow over and it will be forgotten who was in charge when things went wrong, and who it was who tried to keep it quiet. This is a plan they desperately need to work, as the man who would rather ignore the lessons of failure than face embarrassment is the very man they’re asking the country to once again entrust the NHS to. This is a deeply cynical move, and one which greatly underestimates the public. The thousands who died unnecessarily will not be forgotten, and it will also be remembered who wanted to keep it buried.

On 5 March, the Health Select Committee will be taking evidence from Sir David Nicholson on the Francis Report. As a member of the committee, I have already stated my reservations about his ability to remain in post, calling on the Prime Minister to investigate comments that Nicholson allegedly made, reportedly stating that the Cure the NHS group were ‘simply lobbying’. I have also called for a full debate in Parliament on the Report and its findings - with a view to understanding what next steps must be taken. With responsibility must come accountability. But we must not forget that there is a far greater story yet to be told. We must also uncover the reasons for why exactly the Labour party are remaining shamefully silent on this most appalling failure under their watch.


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