Jeremy Hunt is Secretary of State for Health and MP for Surrey South-West.
Last week, following an independent process and with clinical support, I announced that Mid Staffs Foundation Trust would be dissolved. On Labour’s watch, the Trust had become a byword for failure in the NHS. Needless deaths, a shocking absence of compassion and tragic suffering had been going on for years before ministers finally took action.
Of course, much of the NHS is world-class – but where poor care does exist, we should tackle problems head-on. Sadly, however, when this Government has done that Labour still calls it ‘running down the NHS.’ But nothing betrays the patients who use the service – or the doctors and nurses who have given their lives to it – more than sweeping problems under the carpet and hoping they go away. As a result of our new inspection regime, 14 hospitals are now in special measures, with their problems finally being addressed. Damningly, every single one of them had warning signs which were ignored under Labour.
But the most startling evidence that Labour still hasn’t learned the lessons of Mid Staffs is Wales. Don’t take it from me. This is what Dr Dai Samuel, chair of the BMA’s Welsh Junior Doctors Committee says:
“It’s pretty horrific… the level of care being given to patients is compromised – it’s substandard… We are seeing a miniature Mid Staffs every day. This is just the tip of the iceberg”.
On Monday, my colleague Charlotte Leslie wrote an excellent piece for ConHome which set out the failure of the Labour-run Welsh system to provide proper care for patients. The last time A&E targets were met there was 2009 – and since then the number of patients registered in Wales using A&E departments in England has risen by more than 10 per cent.
Worryingly, both Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s medical director, and Norman Williams, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, have written to the Welsh authorities calling for action in raising standards – only to be completely ignored.
Whilst Labour continues to bury its head in the sand over poor care in Wales, the public will conclude that the NHS for Labour is more about winning elections than providing the best care.
So one year on from the Francis Report, here are six tests for Labour. Pass them, and we can all move on. But failing to address them will shout loud and clear that the NHS is simply not safe in Labour’s hands.
1. Does Labour now believe they wrong to oppose a public inquiry into Mid Staffs – and Andrew Lansley was right to set one up?
2. Will Labour admit that being honest about poor care is nothing to do with ‘running down the NHS’ – but in fact is about protecting it?
3. Does Labour acknowledge that their decision to abolish expert-led inspections in 2008 was misguided?
4. Will Labour agree to hold a Keogh-style review of high mortality rates in Welsh hospitals, just as we have done in England – and which has led to the 14 hospitals placed in special measures being turned around?
5. Will Labour finally recognise the impact of their target-obsessed culture on care?
6. Does Labour accept that pushing hospitals towards Foundation Trust status – as in the case of Mid Staffs – wasn’t in the interests of patients?
The NHS has begun to turn the corner in the last year – nursing numbers are on the rise, compassionate care is an increasing priority on our wards, and a new culture of openness and transparency is taking root. But not in the Labour Party when it comes to the NHS.