David Morris is Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale. Follow David on Twitter.
revelation about the Morecambe Bay cover-up sent shock waves through my
constituency, and brought fresh pain to families already struggling to come to
terms with devastating losses. There are many questions left to answer.
The hospital must prove beyond doubt that services have been
transformed since the scandal. The leaders of the local health
authorities at that time – supposedly in charge of performance-managing the
hospital – must come clean on what they knew about the suppressed Care Quality Commission (CQC)
report. The regulator itself must provide urgent assurances that those
responsible for this sickening cover-up face career-ending consequences as well
as the full force of the law.
But there is another case to answer.
Morecambe Bay is the latest in a long list of hospital scandals that took
place on Labour's watch. Like Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, Stoke
Mandeville, Basildon and Stafford before it, the Morecambe Bay tragedy has laid
bare a cover-up culture and tick-box inspection regime in Labour's NHS, and my
constituents deserve an account of this.
As Jeremy Hunt said in his statement yesterday, the hospital regulator should be an organisation that stands up for
patients without fear or favour. Yet Labour Ministers – obsessed with
avoiding critical headlines and covering their backs – tasked the regulator with
ticking boxes and closing down problems. The former Chair of the CQC,
Baroness Young, has made very serious allegations that ministers "leaned on"
her to "tone down" criticism of NHS organisations. She claims that "there was huge government pressure, because the government hated the idea that
a regulator would criticise it". Damningly, she revealed that this
political pressure peaked under current Shadow Health Secretary's Andy
Burnham's tenure as Secretary of State. This is the man who turned down 81
separate requests for a public inquiry into the Mid Staffs scandal, and has
attacked the current Health Secretary time and again for exposing and
confronting "coasting hospitals".
Over time, Labour ministers developed a standard
prescription for NHS failure. First, dither: check tick-box compliance
and allow defensive managers to blame bureaucratic errors in the reporting of
deaths. We saw this to devastating effect at Mid Staffordshire, where
unnecessary deaths went unchecked for many months because they were put down to
'coding discrepancies' . Second, denial: lean on regulators to tone down
frank assessments of NHS failure, particularly around election time.
Third, dismissal: when all else fails promise that this was an isolated
incident, and as a result fail to learn lessons or spot similar problems
The CQC is getting its house in order – ordering
and publishing the inquiry, holding hands up, and clearing-out the bad apples
on the board. By contrast, Labour have refused to account for Baroness
Young's allegations, refused to apologise for Labour's cover-up culture, and
have stubbornly opposed the Conservatives' overhaul of their failed tick-box
inspection regime. In fact, Andy Burnham derided the appointment of a
powerful Chief Inspector with the authority and judgement to call out problems
as "heavy-handed regulation". He calls it "heavy-handed"; I call
it "speaking truth to power", and my constituents rue the day he stamped this
out at a time when babies were dying at Morecambe Bay.