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Anorak | After Gosport let’s rip up the NHS

After Gosport let’s rip up the NHS

by | 24th, June 2018

Dr Jane Barton was in charge of prescribing medicine on the wards of Gosport War Memorial Hospital, Hampshire. The Sunday Times say she was “found responsible last week for the deaths of up to 650 people and a culture in which powerful opiates were routinely and recklessly prescribed”. Tough words. Surely her work “potentially contributed to the early deaths of hundreds of patients”? One thing is certain: this a scandal for the NHS to deal with. Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt goes on the record:

“The basic problem is that if you are a doctor or a nurse and you see something going wrong – even if you are perhaps responsible for a mistake yourself – the most important thing, the thing that families want if they are bereaved or if they have a tragedy, is to know that the NHS isn’t going to make that mistake again.”

Is this to be an other story which ends with the line “lessons have been learned”?

“We make it much too hard for doctors and nurses to do that – they are worried that there will be litigation, they will go up in front of the GMC or NMC, the reputation of their unit – in some places they are worried they might get fired, so we do have to tackle that blame culture and turn that into a learning culture.”

The stand -out part of his address to the scandal is that “the lives of over 450 patients were shortened by clinically inappropriate use of opioid analgesics”. Live were shortened sounds like a euphemism. The Sun puts it on balder terms: their lives were “snuffed out”. Thinks ,less of the ignored whistleblower and families of the dead and marvel at how many people must have said nothing or worse. Says the Sun: “The health service is, in the main, an admirable institution. But it also gave us serial killer Harold Shipman, the Mid-Staffs ­outrage, the baby deaths at Bristol and Morecambe, and now hundreds killed in Gosport as staff closed ranks.” Anyone using the word “systemic” should be removed from the debate. This is about people. “Scandals like Gosport will be repeated until government targets are banned,” says one Guardian writer. Blame the system and everyone escapes.

Professor Sir Brian Jarman, director of the Dr Foster Unit at Imperial College London, says what happened at Gosport could be occurring elsewhere, because whistleblowers are “fired, gagged and blacklisted… nobody dare whistleblow in the NHS”.

The obvious question, then: why not blame the NHS and question its role? Why blame the system and not the body? Catherine Bennett wonders:

If the propensity to sanctify the NHS, to the point of worshipping it at the Olympics ceremony, helps explain occasional unwillingness to recognise its fallibility, and correspondingly exaggerated self-belief on the part of some practitioners, the Jones report doubles as a 370-page case for deconsecration. Although just a quick reading of Learning From Tragedy, p25, “a new approach to complaints and concerns”, would be a start.

And what of the technology? The Sunday Times has focused a report on the “cheap, faulty syringe pumps” used in palliative care.

The pumps, or drivers, used in the NHS for at least 30 years, led to the rapid infusion of dangerous doses of drugs into the bloodstream and made the behaviour of Dr Jane Barton — in charge of prescribing medicine on the Gosport wards — even more dangerous than had been thought

Would you put a member of you own family on such a pump – one you didn’t want to bump off?

The whistleblower said: “This could be one of the biggest cover- ups in NHS history. Anyone who has lost their granny over the past 30 years when opiates were administered by this equipment will be asking themselves, ‘Is that what killed Granny?’”

Amazing, no, how many old people can have “their lives shortened” before the rest of us take notice.

And what of the money all politicians of every stripe want to toss at the NHS? Is the NHS snow so big and bloated it can’t be questioned? If MPs and ministers can’t excerpt power over it, what chance does a nurse or hospital porter have of exposing serious wrongdoing?

A private word now: had I relied on the NHS I’d be living in a wheelchair or much worse. The NHS does much great work, but it was the sixth opinion – the first from a private doctor – that saved me. Our leaders venerate the NHS. It is beyond blame. But an organisation which has to cancel 50,000 operations to handle winter flu is not best serving the people.

Tim Black notes that questioning the NHS is heresy:

Few politicians question whether simply throwing money at the NHS is the best way forward. Or dare suggest that there are some things the NHS does, especially its intrusions into people’s lifestyles, that are detrimental to our political and social health. Or point out that its excessive managerialism and target-setting lead to routinised carelessness. Because, in the estranged world of the political class, invoking the NHS is seen as just about the only way to speak to us with any authority. The NHS is now the answer to nearly every party-political question. Why are we raising taxes? To support the NHS. Why are we leaving the EU? To benefit the NHS. Why are we better than them? Because we love the NHS more.

A final thought: if there were no NHS and we needed a body to provide medical care at the point of need at no extra cost, would anyone design the NHS as is it now? Surely not. It’s time to rethink the enterprise and come up with something that serves us all better.



Posted: 24th, June 2018 | In: Key Posts, News Comment | TrackBack | Permalink