Mid Staffs scandal: Blame staff cuts Not nurses

by Daphne Liddle

HEALTH Secretary Jeremy Hunt last week delivered his response to the Francis Inquiry into the reasons for the shocking failings at the Mid Staff NHS Trust by focussing on the failings of nurses and managers rather than the shortages of staff due to budgetary cuts and the culture of putting targets above patient welfare.

He proposed making student nurses spend a year working as nursing assistants on the wards before beginning the academic part of their training. This will not necessarily make a lot of difference as student nurses already have to spend 50 per cent of their training time on hospital wards.

And there is no nurse in the world who can give adequate care, compassion and attendance to up to 30 patients at once, all needing help with eating, toileting, medication and someone to talk to. Hunt did admit that the response to the Francis Inquiry will require the recruitment of a lot more nurses but did not say how this would be funded.

He did threaten to “blacklist” managers who fail to meet adequate standard on the wards so they could not simply go from one disaster and immediately find another job in the NHS. But he did not promise any help for managers in stretching inadequate budgets and a system where usurious PFI fat cats must be paid before nurses and doctors. Nor did he say the Government would drop the £20 billion in savings currently being imposed on the NHS.

He promised to create a Commissioner of Health to inspect hospitals equivalent to the education watchdog Ofsted, which would have the power to order improvements or even put a hospital into administration.

This of course would be a swift road to privatisation as one foundation trust after another would fail at the impossible task of balancing the books.

Hunt, along with Cameron, Osborne and the rest of the crew could claim this proves the NHS is economically not viable and throw all health care over to market forces.

The inspection system that actually worked — the Community Health Councils, which the Francis Report acknowledged would have spotted the problems at the Mid Staffs long before the Government did, and would have had the power to insist on changes — failed to get a mention from Hunt.

Health service unions were critical of Hunt’s proposals. Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Jeremy Hunt’s continual failure to understand how the NHS works and the drivers needed to change the culture of the NHS is reflected in his announcement today.

“He has presented no evidence as to how putting nurses in training — just one profession in the NHS — into the healthcare assistant role will change the culture in the NHS. Healthcare assistants need to be recognised as a profession in their own right and regulated accordingly.

“There are issues of training, supervision and resources that need to be addressed if student nurses are going to spend more time on the frontline.

“The serious issues of creating an enabling culture to help NHS staff reach their potential was not addressed either by Hunt.

“He has also ignored the central thrust of the Francis report to enable patients and staff to whistle-blow, without repercussions, and to guarantee that their concerns will be investigated and appropriate change enforced.”

Christina McAnea, Unison head of health, said: “It is only right that the lessons of Mid Staff are learned, for all the patients who died and for their relatives.

“Nurses and other healthcare staff are crying out for safe staffing levels and for wards to have the right skills mix. Patients are suffering because this is not happening — the Government has to start listening to health workers who have repeatedly raised these concerns.

“Instead of giving nurses their backing, the government is constantly running them down. It must be recognised that day in day out the NHS and its staff deliver excellent care in hospitals across the country.”

The union called for full registration of healthcare assistants, not just minimum standards of training and warned that without adequate funding, this would fail.