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Monday, 22 June 2015

Sun Burnham NHS Smear Busted

The right-wing press has not yet wavered from its belief that Leigh MP Andy Burnham is favourite to become the next Labour leader, and so has been limbering up for the full-on campaign of abuse and vilification that will begin the moment he, or anyone else, is confirmed in the job. The source of the latest attack is the Murdoch Sun, and to no surprise at all, the subject is Stafford Hospital.
And the dishonesty starts early on, as readers are told of “Burnham, a junior health minister during the Mid-Staffs scandal and directly responsible for giving the trust foundation status in 2008”. This is two porkies in one: the Stafford Hospital shortcomings came to national attention in 2008, following a Healthcare Commission investigation. Burnham moved from the Department of Health (DoH) to the Treasury the previous year.

Nor was he at the DoH when the Trust gained Foundation status (he authorised it, but the Francis Inquiry did not find his conduct other than reasonable), which happened in February 2008. Perhaps the reportage improves later in the article? Er, no: “Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Healthcare Commission which regulated NHS care standards at the time, said the estimated 1,200 needless deaths in four years constituted the most shocking scandal he had investigated”.

Kennedy did not say anything about any number of “needless deaths”, and, as has been repeatedly explained, to find whether any death that occurred at Stafford Hospital was “needless” or “unnecessary”, the individual case notes would have to be consulted. Of around 90 instances of this, it was concluded that perhaps one death could have been avoided (that, of course, does not excuse the shortcomings in care).

Then we get “Patients got so thirsty they drank water from flower vases”. Let’s take this one nice and slowly. Here’s a correction from a Guardian interview with campaigner Julie Bailey, much quoted in the Sun article: “We have been asked to make it clear that the inquiry into failings at the hospital, conducted by Robert Francis QC, did not hear any direct evidence about any incident of patients forced to drink water from flower vases”.

Here’s another correction from a Julie Bailey article in the Spectator by Nick Cohen: “The Commission’s report did not establish a causal link between the ‘excess deaths’ and failings in patient care [see the claim of ‘1,200 needless deaths’ above], nor was there any mention in this – or subsequent reports – of patients having had to drink from vases”. Nor was there any mention of Burnham in those two articles on Ms Bailey.

Nor did the Sun mention what Young Dave said in the Commons when the Francis report into the Stafford Hospital shortcomings was published: “Let us … be clear about what it does not say … Francis does not blame any specific policy … He does not blame the last Secretary of State for Health … And he says we should not seek scapegoats”. Perhaps the Sun managed to miss that one. Like everything else it got wrong.

The Sun: so frightened of Andy Burnham it resorts to lying. No change there, then.


daveinbrum said...

The claims are easily debunked but this won't stop The Sun and its ilk making them again and again, whether Burnham becomes leader or not.

Andy McDonald said...

What was it Goebbels said about repeating a lie?