Anyone reading the Tory Party version of the latest story to come out of their attempt to dump anything bad about the NHS at the door of shadow health man Andy Burnham might by now have got the impression that the MP for Leigh really has been doing a regular ward round emptying an Uzi into as many elderly patients, and those in A&E, as he can find.
Whose hand up the ministerial jacksy?
The sheer ferocity of the attack has gone beyond mere political exchange, to the point where Tory desperation to claw back ground on the issue – where Labour still enjoys a healthy lead in every opinion poll going – means that they have to sling whatever mud they can at Burnham in the hope that some of it will stick. The main weapon is, as with much of their NHS bashing, “death rates”.
Why that phrase is in quote marks is deliberate: as Zelo Street regulars will know, using Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratios (HSMRs) instead of factual information is not a reliable indicator of health outcomes. But that does not stop the press from wheeling out Brian Jarman, or of course him wheeling himself out, to continue plugging the concept that continues to make him money.
And it also enables that part of the press whose editors and hacks go private to lay into the NHS, as with the latest story on the release of a report into Basildon and Thurrock NHS Trust. Jeremy Hunt (the former Culture Secretary), aided and abetted by no-mark Tory back bencher Steve Barclay, has been creatively reinterpreting emails garnered from FoI requests.
Hunt’s conclusion? “There is now a strong body of evidence that Labour ministers leant on the hospital watchdog to cover up poor care, leaving hundreds of patients to suffer under a system that put political priorities first”. That verges on the incendiary, and unfortunately the emails do not support his assertion, not unless they are accompanied by someone to say “They really mean THIS”.
What the emails actually tell is that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) briefed the press about the report into Basildon and Thurrock, but should not have done before notifying the Department of Health. Strangely, the press is happy to side with the CQC over its right to brief anyone anytime, but then wants to kick it over an assessment of Basildon and Thurrock which apparently missed problems.
And what is also clear is that Andy Burnham is more than willing to stand his ground, pointing out that this story has already been covered. Those who have previously reported on the case, like Sky News’ Anushka Asthana, haven’t seen any evidence of a Labour cover-up. Papers like the Mail and Telegraph have previous for this. The impression is given that it’s just another smear of Burnham.
Why would the Tories rather not rather talk about their handling of the NHS instead?