Campaigner Diana Smith replied to me yesterday via Twitter that it would take her weeks to go through the whole of the latest report from Robert Francis QC into the saga of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, and more specifically Stafford Hospital. Given the not far short of 2,000 pages of that report, this is not an unreasonable response. But for the press, there is the news cycle to satisfy.
So there has been rather a lot of – one might say too much – reporting in the very broadest brush terms, along with using the most frightening numbers and slanting copy in a way that satisfies the need to kick the NHS. One has to bear in mind that the editors driving the copy generation, and many of their staff, go private, as they do when it comes to education. So they think everyone else should, too.
It is through that prism that they view the Stafford Hospital saga. The screaming headline from the Sun – “1200 dead and no-one’s to blame – no sackings, no resignations despite 4 years of horrific neglect” – is typical. The number of deaths was put between 400 and 1200, so the highest is taken as fact (and yes, the average would also be unacceptable). The Francis conclusion is also misrepresented.
He “did not single out any individual”. Moreover, there are a number of nurses and doctors still under investigation as a result of what went on at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009. This only reaches the small print. What Francis is clearly trying to focus on is ensuring a culture shift which makes a recurrence least likely. This, I would suggest, is the best first step.
That is not to say that the relatives of those who died as a result of their stay at the hospital should not have their say: Francis is to meet their representatives, and their experiences are equally important in ensuring that what went on is not allowed to take place again. But there are other aspects of his report to consider, and these may not prove easy for a Government looking to bear down on costs.
Because Francis has made recommendations on staffing levels: a major part of the problem that caused such widespread patient neglect was that these had been cut to the extent that those on duty were unable to provide a satisfactory level of attention to their patients. Compliance will not be a zero cost option. Nor will it be quick and easy, given the shortage of qualified nursing personnel.
That may mean using more Health Care Assistants (HCAs). That is not necessarily a bad thing, but they need direction and supervision. And that is just one of the areas where Stafford – and many other hospitals – need to focus. Meanwhile, the hacks need look only to the next deadline, and producing copy in accordance with their editors’ wishes. And they’ll have forgotten the victims before long.
Meanwhile, the NHS and its users need to see change. More on this story later.