Monday, March 01, 2010

Why does everyone pretend the NHS is fit and well?

Why are Cameron's Conservatives a mere two points ahead in the polls? Policy-lite politics is the answer. Consider the following:

Health Secretary Andy Burnham claims the scandal surrounding Stafford Hospital is a local issue. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

The terrible truth is that the NHS cannot be trusted with our lives. The unnecessary deaths in Stafford – anywhere between 400 and 1,200 of them in three years – are not unique.

Our health service is an antiquated, bureaucratic, self-serving edifice with rotten foundations and is crumbling just about everywhere.

It’s only when, as at Stafford, the facts start to leak out as the death toll rises, that we get a glimpse into the real life of an average hospital.

Actually, it’s supposedly above average – at the height of the scandal, the hospital sought and won the coveted Trust status which supposedly marked it out as a caring and effective institution.

It’s no wonder the bereaved families of the poor people who suffered and died in Stafford think even this week’s behind-closed-doors inquiry isn’t good enough.

Stafford is not the only hospital stricken by a fatal dose of obsession with budgets and targets.

It’s not alone in spending £628,000 on spin doctors or getting one in four of its prescriptions wrong.

Managers are partly to blame but where were the doctors and nurses when their patients were neglected, suffering and dying?

Why weren’t they caring properly for their patients?

They can’t hide behind “budget cuts” and “bureaucracy” all the time. They are highly-paid “professionals” – why did they let down so many people so badly?

Don’t they even notice when their patients are left sobbing in their beds as a result of sheer neglect? Obviously not.

What has happened to the massive sums of money poured into the health service in the past 11 years?

Spending has soared from £39.9 billion to £102 billion yet researchers Policy Exchange reckon our hospitals needlessly kill 78,400 patients a year.

These death are caused by “adverse events”, which means accidents, the wrong medication or the wrong treatment.

If you are unlucky enough to fall into the clutches of the health service, you will know some treatment is superb. Some wards are clean, some nurses are kindly and caring, some doctors are wonderful.

You will also know some conditions are Third World, some staff couldn’t care less, some doctors are rude and arrogant and some “service” comes on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

It’s easy to blame NHS managers and staff shortages for the tragedy that is our modern health service. But it would be wrong to do so.

The infection has spread far and wide and, rather like MRSA and other killer bugs caught in hospital these days, it’s almost impossible to eradicate.

Yet none of our political parties is willing to look at the NHS and even consider that it might be a suitable case for treatment.

Nobody bothers to ask whether this is the best way to provide health care to an expanding and ageing population?

Everyone knows the NHS is Labour’s secret weapon. Despite the evidence, voters apparently think it’s safe in their hands.

The staff may be but Stafford Hospital proves the patients certainly aren’t. That’s why Mr Burnham wants to keep the scandal confined to one maverick hospital. He daren’t admit there are wider problems.

Yet the Conservatives are so terrified of being thought anti-NHS they have no serious alternatives to offer. They won’t even look at whether the taxpayer gets good value for all the money we pour into it.

We should note the struggle Barack Obama is having to introduce universal health care in the United States.

Over there, people are terrified of a Socialist solution to health care. They mistrust it because they are certain it will lead to lower standards and less chance of getting the treatment they need when they need it.

They’re afraid if the Government is in charge of health care, their chances of survival will fall.

Our experience proves they’re right. Yet we delude ourselves into thinking we have the best health service in the world.

Just because it’s free when you need it doesn’t mean it’s good.

A public inquiry into the Stafford scandal would not just reveal the depths to which that hospital has sunk but show us how the NHS is really run – for the benefit of the staff, the functionaries, the contractors and politicians, not patients or their families.

Then, maybe, we will see the service as it really is – deeply flawed and tragically out-dated – rather than as we like to think of it.

No other organisation would be allowed to survive after absorbing so much money for so little effect.

Yes, the NHS still saves lives. And, when it does, it enjoys the abject gratitude of its patients, their family and friends.

The overwhelming relief that they aren’t dead blinds many people to the grim realities of life in the NHS.

It is run along the lines prescribed by 19th century Socialists (only without the carbolic soap). We need a 21st century remedy for the plague of incompetence and indifference now sweeping the service.

But the political spin doctors are all off playing golf with their chums the hospital consultants.

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