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June 22, 2013

A few Morecambe parents would help sort out the CQC
Filed under: Private Eye — Dr. Phil @ 10:59 pm

Times Thunderer Column, 21.6.13

‘Those currently in power in the NHS don’t listen to the truth’

David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt profess to be “shocked” by the latest appalling NHS scandal, this time in Morecambe Bay, but they shouldn’t be. A regulator that failed so miserably in one hospital, Mid Staffs, is likely to have failed in others, along with the managers, clinical staff and commissioners who either failed to spot the scandal or colluded in the cover-up. What is shocking is that the Government decided to stick with the same leader of the NHS, Sir David Nicholson.

When the fish is rotting from the head, you need to remove it. Instead Mr Cameron and Mr Hunt fully support him as the only man to lead the NHS into this new era of openness and transparency, where we no longer cover up our mistakes. Sir David has finally agreed to retire next March, but his legacy is not just one of fear and bullying in the NHS, where too many in the chain of command kiss up, denying appalling care beneath them and delivering only good news to Downing Street. He has also ensured that many in key positions of power in the NHS are “David’s people”. As such, it is difficult for them to speak truth to power, as Cynthia Bower, the former chief executive of the Care Quality Commission, found to her cost.

It seems inconceivable that high- level CQC discussions about serious failings at Morecambe Bay would not reach the ears of Sir David and others in the Department of Health. But as Robert Francis found in his report into Mid Staffs, it’s fiendishly difficult to pin down the evidence linking scandal to the centre. Sir David may also outlast Mr Hunt, who is playing a very dangerous game of pass the buck. Many senior doctors and nurses warned of the dangers of rushing in to the new 111 out-of-hours service, but the Government went ahead anyway, and three fatalities at least are alleged to have occurred. Mr Hunt’s response has been to blame a nine-year-old GP contract. It shows that those currently in power in the NHS still don’t listen to truth, even if you dare speak it to them.

It might be more prudent for Mr Hunt to have one large truth and reconciliation hearing, rather than a series of public inquiries. Above all, we need people like the Morecambe Bay parent James Titcombe, who are unafraid to speak the truth. Mr Titcombe is modest but unrelenting. He works in the nuclear industry and has been staggered by the slack, defensive safety culture in the NHS. I would trust the CQC far more if people like him were on its board. Give the power to those who’ve earned it.

Phil Hammond is a GP turned hospital doctor and Private Eye’s medical correspondent