Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Mid Staffs nightmare goes on

As a commentator, it is very easy to be judgemental and idealistic – I’ve often thought it must be much more fun to be in opposition than government. But surely anyone who has heard about the recent horror at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust has a right to judge.

A tiny, premature 4 month old baby suffering from breathing problems was found in a hospital ward with a dummy taped to his mouth.  Taping a dummy to a baby’s mouth is unacceptable, stupid, dangerous and cruel from whichever standpoint it is viewed. It doesn’t take a consultant paediatrician to work out that if the baby’s nose became blocked or if he regurgitated some milk he could choke or suffocate. If social services found such a situation in the community – the family would be placed on an ‘at risk’ register. And yet this baby was in a place where he should have been safest of all – in hospital.

I’m not sure which is most worrying – the fact that this happened at all or the fact that the Director of Nursing, Colin Ovington stated that he was ‘proud that our staff now feel confident to report any incidents that happen’. I am jumping straight off the fence and hope that Mr Ovington’s tenure in his role is soon finished. This isn’t about whistle-blowing – it’s about appalling treatment of a vulnerable baby. And please, no-one blame staff shortages or lack of training. It has to be either an imbecile or a bully to do this to a baby. It’s hard not to get emotional and I feel sick to the stomach of how I would have felt if that had been done to my daughter when she was tiny.

But let’s try to put emotions to one side for a moment. An official inquiry into failings at the hospital estimate that between 400 and 1200 patients have died needlessly. There is an excellent piece in The Telegraph by Professor Sir Brian Jarman, from Imperial College London:

Professor Jarman points out the danger of ignoring safety data and that hindsight is only of value if it is heeded. He notes that by 2007, the Trust had received 4 alerts regarding higher than average death rates.  He finishes If the NHS is to honour the lives which were lost, so many needlessly, we must surely learn that when it comes to matters of life and death, hindsight is a luxury we can ill afford’

Bad care isn’t about hindsight, history, or staff shortages. It is about the here and now. It’s about hospital and ward culture, discipline, standards and careful recruitment. Is there such a thing as bad care? If it’s bad it’s not care. Although the background to this incident isn’t yet clear, the treatment of this baby amounts to cruel abuse taking place in an environment which has already been shown to be flawed and dangerous.

Julie Bailey – a fantastic patient advocate from Cure the NHS calls for the ‘Hospital to be closed and wards re-opened one by one after checks have been made on every member of staff’

This a tempting idea, but maybe the best place to start – and I make no apologies for repeating myself, is with the leadership team of any hospital where the data spells danger.



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