Chris 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
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.