Welcome To Zelo Street!

This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Sunday 14 July 2013

NHS – The Assault Continues

[Update at end of post]

Before the Francis Report, into poor standards of care at Stafford Hospital, was released, the Telegraph for some reason knew what was contained within it, to the extent that it could be confidently splashed across the front page. “The chairman, Robert Francis QC, is set to deliver a damning verdict on the whole of the health service” it told readers in January.
Then the Francis Report was delivered, and was not as the Telegraph had told. What to do? Simples. “Civil servants ‘neutered’ the final version of the Francis report into the Stafford hospital scandal, with the effect of protecting the embattled chief executive of the NHS, a leading expert has claimed”. Yes, those rotten Whitehall bureaucrats covered it all up. Except they didn’t.

Francis delivered his conclusions personally: the idea that someone wanting to cover up something would have let him do this is ridiculous. But the Tel has not been deflected from either kicking the NHS, nor from predicting what reports that have not yet been published will say, and today’s faux outrage has been joined by the Mail, with yet more talk of “thousands of patients ... still dying needlessly”.

And it is the Mail that sells the pass in short order, by falsely asserting “the Mid Staffs scandal claimed hundreds of lives ... up to 1,200 patients died ... forced to drink water from flower vases because of inhuman standards”. The “flower vases” line – Stafford Hospital had not had flower vases for some years – keeps on being slipped into copy, as does the false “up to 1,200 deaths” claim.

Yet the latest Telegraph “revelation” has the same false basis as the Stafford Hospital deaths claim: it is using figures derived from the use of Standardised Hospital Mortality Ratios (HSMRs), a measure that has been found to be so seriously flawed that it has now been superseded by something more accurate. And all these measures are based on averages.

There will always be some hospitals that are doing less well than the average, on any measure of performance. That, as Steve Walker has explained more thoroughly, does not mean the service they give is bad, just that, on one set of measures, there are other hospitals doing better. And if the 14 trusts mentioned by the Tel were removed from the equation, that situation would not change.

In other words, the Tories and their pals in the press have – perhaps inadvertently – hit on a way of kicking the NHS until they finish it off: keep frightening the public about those hospitals that do less well than the average on any set of criteria, pick off those hospitals and either close them or use the figures to hand them over to the private sector, then set the whole cycle off again.

There you have the sick and cynical approach of the right wing in a nutshell.

[UPDATE 15 July 1825 hours: the Telegraph and Mail appear to have a problem with their claim that "thousands" of patients "died needlessly" - the Tel actually specifies 13,000 as the number of deaths. Because the author of the upcoming review they have been quoting has said these are "not my calculations, not my views".

Bruce Keogh, the author of the report which will be published this week, made that comment in a personal reply to a concerned correspondent. The original email, and the Keogh response, have been shown in full by Steve Walker's excellent Skwawkbox blog - which anyone interested in things NHS should follow as a matter of course.

So, as with the Francis Report into what happened at Stafford Hospital, those papers are going to have some backpedalling to do. Meanwhile, the sneering has begun among the rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, with the cat-calling "envy of the world" jibe at the NHS. Good to see the Fawkes folks obediently spinning for the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate, to whom they have so spinelessly and shamelessly sold out.

Meanwhile, we await the real Keogh report, rather than the fictitious preview of the pundit boot boys]

No comments: