They spent their years in office convinced that more money and more targets would solve everything. In fact, they jammed so much cash and paperwork into the system that it could not deal with the added pressure. In the words of Labour’s Margaret Hodge, when launching a 2011 Public Accounts Committee report: “Over the last ten years, the productivity of NHS hospitals has been in almost continuous decline. Over the same period, the amount spent on the NHS increased from £60 billion to £102 billion a year. The quality of the health service has improved as a result of this increase in spending. But the taxpayer has been getting less for each pound spent.”
While they devised more bureaucracy, patients died at Mid-Staffs (and elsewhere). I’m sure every reader will be familiar with the scandal – but it is still sobering and shocking to read thesethreewitness statements submitted to the Francis Inquiry. People lost their health, their dignity and in many cases their lives in horrifying circumstances.
When whistleblowers warned of problems, they were bullied and silenced. The shameful treatment of those relations of patients who blew the whistle at Mid-Staffs was only the tip of the iceberg. In 2013 a former NHS executive revealed that gagging clauses were common in the severance packages of whistleblowers – effectively using taxpayers’ money to encourage them to keep the truth from the electorate. The culture of secrecy which Labour instilled requires long, hard work and serious reforms to break down – as Jeremy Hunt documented for this site. As recently as December, Andy Burnham criticised the public nature of the inquiry into Mid-Staffs.
Labour’s mismanagement of the NHS continues to this day in Wales. Given the Opposition’s repeated claims that the NHS would be safe in their hands, it’s interesting to look to Wales, where the health service is devolved to a Labour administration. It’s a cautionary example – the ideological rejection of private sector involvement, regardless of the potential benefits to patients and taxpayers; cuts to funding, despite political rhetoric offering the opposite; that same poisonous attitude towards those who complain about poor care; tens of thousands of patients crossing the border to England to get swifter, better treatment; and, unsurprisingly given those problems, a far lower level of public confidence in the NHS in Labour-run Wales.
Now Labour wants to “weaponise” the NHS. After all those problems, and all those scandals, you might have hoped that Labour would be at least a little apologetic. Far from it – we know that he briefed senior BBC executives that his electoral strategy rested on “weaponising” the NHS. Rather than address the realities of their record, or the challenges the health system faces, they’d prefer to use it as a political tool.