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The Sun's shameful attempts to blame hospital staff for government failures

Disgraceful attempts by The Sun to blame, 'name and shame' NHS staff for failings are designed to obscure the ideological idiocy being imposed from Westminster.

The: The Sun's editorial on the day Addenbrookes was put into special measures.

World leading Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge has been labelled as understaffed and failing - and put into ‘special measures’.

Its Chief Executive Dr Keith McNeil has fallen on the sword handed to him by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) which inspects hospitals, clinics and care homes.

Addenbrookes is a previously top ranked hospital, still ranked 'outstanding' for its caring staff, with low infection rates, good outcome measures and a consultant body that gave its overwhelming support to Dr McNeil and tried to reject his resignation letter.

So where did it all go wrong?

Not just for Addenbrookes – damned by the CQC for understaffing – but for the three quarters of Trusts this week exposed as facing similar problems

The Tory led Coalition government inherited an NHS in 2010 that had the highest ever satisfaction ratings and the lowest ever waiting times.

Under the guise of ‘deficit reduction’, David Cameron promptly set about shrinking public services and creating a ‘permanently…leaner state’, which he admitted in 2013 was an ideological project that would continue regardless of the global economic situation. It is all about selling off the public services we are proud of to his friends in the City.

Firstly Cameron and Osborne imposed homeopathic increases to the NHS budget year on year.  These NHS budget increases were below inflation - so in essence, cuts. You can’t maintain a decent health care system with below inflation rises – something has to give.

Second the Tories imposed the disastrous reorganisation on the NHS, the Health and Social Care Act 2012. This put earlier pro-market New Labour policies on steroids, and diverted vast amounts of both energy and cash away from frontline services, into running a the NHS as an expensively bureaucratic ‘marketplace’.

Thirdly Chancellor George Osborne slashed social care spending by up to 40% and then blamed the local authorities who had no choice but to cut services. Patients were ‘stuck’ in hospital beds unable to be discharged because the social care provision had been cut to the bone in the community.

Fourthly Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt urged Trusts to move to a ‘paperless NHS’, as part of the Tories’ ‘digital revolution’. Last year Addenbrookes – the first to adopt US firm Epic’s ‘e-hospital’ system - was being hailed as ‘highlighting how eHealth can have a transformative effect on patient experience and outcomes’. But the system was a disaster – a report in November revealed that A&E performance had dropped by 20% since it was implemented.

And lastly the Tories imposed year on year pay cuts to every NHS staff member, even as workloads increased due to frontline staff shortages and time wasted on ‘market’ paperwork. To justify their attacks, Tory politicians vilified doctors as lazy and greedy, and nurses as cruel and uncaring. Unsurprisingly, morale plummeted. It was as if they were punishing nurses, porters, midwives for the misdeeds of the bankers, who carried on enjoying their multi-million pound bonuses.

Right now, they are attempting to impose a pay cut of up to 40% on junior doctors – which looks like it’s about to prompt a massive brain drain of doctors at the start of their career. Morale has never been so low as it is amongst our NHS doctors.

As they go the extra mile every day to save lives or comfort those in pain or in need, our amazing NHS staff get nothing but kicks in the teeth from our government.

Our Tory politicians often don’t even have the courage to do it directly, instead hiding behind both a complicit media, and quangos like the Care Quality Commission.

The Sun newspaper this week plummeted to new depths in gutter journalism with its latest accusations about NHS staff. Its editorial said their ‘incompetence and patient blunders has now reached criminal levels’ and adds ‘let’s name and shame the staff responsible, not just the hospitals’.

Murdoch’s iron like grip on our media debases our politics. It is time we restricted media ownership to one title only - and severely restrict ownership by those who don’t even live or pay taxes in the UK.  Though with Murdoch’s favourite journalist and Cameron’s close friend Rebekah Brooks back on the scene it seems unlikely Mr Murdoch will be having any problems this side of 2020.

The Sun editorial says, “We now know where the problems are happening so let’s root out the problems.” But they’re not interested in discussing the root causes outlined above, of course.

And what of the source of this information we ‘now know’, the Care Quality Commission (CQC)?

There are not many NHS staff who have a good word to say about CQC, and there’s over a million NHS staff to ask!

It goes around the country like a pack of wolves putting fear into hospitals, GP surgeries and other NHS organisations, disrupting their working days, diverting their attention away for weeks on end from the patient care they need to focus on. Often there are 100 or more CQC inspectors on a SINGLE visit staying in top class hotels at the tax payers expense. The report they produce can be misleading and devastating. One surgery accused by CQC of being ‘infested’ with maggots turned out to have some insects outside by the back door. But it was too late as the media had already condemned them.

Of course we need to improve where care isn’t good enough and ensure care is safe and of high quality but using this blunt instrument of CQC is entirely the wrong way of doing it and takes the blame away from the real culprits – this government. Which suits the Tories nicely.

The CQC needs to be abolished and replaced by a sensible inspection system. Politicians need to be held to account for their own failings. The government needs to fund the NHS and social care properly, and stop forcing it to waste billions on expensive marketisation and over-sold IT systems. Our nurses and midwives deserve a proper pay rise. Murdoch should have severe restrictions placed on the amount of UK media he controls.

Mind you pigs might fly I guess…. (don’t mention pigs in Downing St though).

About the authors

Dr David Wrigley (@davidgwrigley) is a GP in Carnforth, Lancashire and campaigner on the NHS. He co-wrote the recent book 'NHS for Sale' and contributed to ‘NHS SOS’ – all profits of which go to Keep Our NHS Public.

Caroline Molloy is Editor of OurNHS and a freelance writer. In 2011/12 she was part of a successful campaign which reversed one of the largest planned NHS privatisations in the country, involving 9 Gloucestershire hospitals. Since then she has been campaigning alongside local and national groups to defend the NHS. 

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