By Mark Wallace
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The horror of the Mid-Staffs scandal will stick in the minds of many for a long time to come. Patients left lying in their own faeces, ill people crying out for water – these images and more were burned into our minds when the disastrous mismanagement of the NHS Trust was finally exposed.
The response, rightly, was fury. Fury at the individuals responsible, and fury at a system which allowed such appalling neglect to take place. Ministers vowed to ensure it could not happen again.
Where, though, is the fury about a very different healthcare scandal reported in today's newspapers?
It turns out, as many have suspected for a long time, that if you have the misfortune to require surgery at or just before the weekend, your chance of dying in our health service rises by as much as 82%. That is a shocking figure which, given the number of operations the NHS carries out, must mean a lot of people have been affected over the years.
The problem is that, unlike Mid-Staffs, this is not a geographically isolated issue, or one clearly pinned down to one system or another. It is apparently due to an endemic structural issue with how our hospitals are run – simply that at the weekend there are fewer staff on duty, so post-surgical care is not as good.
There seems to be no logical reason why the NHS should run its staffing like an office, or a call centre. By definition, caring for the sick is a round the clock job – illnesses and injuries don't clock off at 6pm on a Friday, so why do many of those treating them?
I can appreciate the political difficulty of restructuring NHS working practices away from the traditional week – just look at the fuss GPs kick up over out of hours services. Ultimately, though, this goes to the heart of the NHS' mission: they are there to care for and heal people. Reforms are needed to save patients' lives.
Justifiably, Mid-Staffs grabbed many headlines and caught prominent attention in Parliament, on the front and backbenches. It would be a betrayal if this issue did not get the same treatment – it deserves the very same fury, and the patients at risk deserve better.