Nick de Bois is Tory MP for Enfield North. Follow Nick on Twitter.
I will never forget the last time I saw my mother; it was in hospital three days before she died which also happened to be during the General Election campaign of 2005. She had developed secondary cancer but was most defiantly a fighter.
There are many reasons for not forgetting the last time you see your mother – but my thoughts are overshadowed by guilt. That day she complained to me about her pain and discomfort and how she was struggling to get attention from the staff on duty. She insisted I didn't make a fuss – I regretfully followed her instructions, and that decision haunts me.
During the weeks preceding her death my brother, who had returned to the UK from where he lived in Spain, had learnt quickly that "he who shouted the loudest" got the necessary care and attention. My brother was deaf to my mother's urging of him to do nothing, her natural trusting instinct was to not make a fuss. But shout he did, and I always think back to how I too should have ignored her instructions and shouted louder on that final Sunday when I visited her on my own.
The crisis in the NHS following the release of the Francis Report into the events at Mid-Staffordshire Trust has re-awakened my memories of how caring has most certainly deteriorated. The professionalism of the surgeons treating my mother could not hide nor prevent the failings on the ward where she spent her final days. Was my experience a "Mid-Staffordshire Trust" moment? No. But will patients and relatives across the country recognise my experience? I believe they may.
What many commentators correctly recognise is that the appalling scandals identified by the Francis Report, which led to so many preventable deaths, came at a time of record spending in the NHS. The last Government ploughed money into the NHS in the belief that it was the simple fix it needed along with endless targets.
That thinking, now entirely discredited, presents Parliament with an opportunity to move the debate on beyond a politicised bidding war between two political parties – and allow a new focus on what really matters: achieving the best patient care and outcomes given we are matching European levels of spending.
Whatever your view of the Health and Social Care Act the debate surrounding it was bogged down in the quagmire of bureaucracy, funding and privatisation. It should always have been, as its authors argued, about improving care within finite budgets. The jury is still out on the resulting Act – formed through compromises, but we now have a fresh opportunity to lead the debate on to new ground as the Francis report should consign to the scrap heap the partisan and fatuous arguments of the past.
When people seek medical help, what matters most is getting the best possible treatment and advice available. They must be able to trust the clinical staff looking after them. We should therefore all have the confidence to present the case that all is not currently well in the NHS, that just spending more money is not the answer. When rightly championing healthcare, free at the point of delivery regardless of income, and funded by general taxation we should have the courage to acknowledge that there are substantive flaws in care. In parts of the NHS there are superb professionals, and of course many people receive excellent treatment – but who can say, following on from the failings at Mid-Staffordshire that the NHS is the envy of the world; although unquestionably its ideals remain so.
The Prime Minister can seize the moment and have an open and honest debate with both Parliament and the country which will allow the tragic, despicable and ultimately preventable events at Mid-Staffordshire Trust to be a catalyst for lasting changes in the NHS. We can all seek better healthcare outcomes and far higher standards without being hamstrung by myths, prejudices and downright lies that so often dominate debates on healthcare provision in this country. A candid and open debate could help make it the envy of the world once again.
Whilst the new Health and Social Care Act passes responsibility to the National Commissioning Board I have maintained change will only come about by both replacing Sir David Nicholson and with No 10 seizing the moment to provide fresh political leadership.
Lets hope we don't miss this opportunity. My mum wouldn't forgive me.