It’s hard to read or listen to the news these days without hearing another story about scandalous care at NHS hospitals. The latest is Leeds General infirmary. Yesterday the hospital decided to close its children’s heart unit – why? NHS bosses took the decision following an internal review of data showing a particularly high level of deaths amongst children undergoing heart operations.
However, the move is not without controversy. The hospital is subject to a long-running row about the potential closure of the children’s heart unit and now there have been calls for the resignation of the medical director of NHS England, Sir Bruce Keogh, who had approved the closure.
It has also been suggested that the hospital was refusing to refer on particularly difficult cases to other regional hospitals with a better level of specialism – hospitals such as Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.
What’s more, it was just last Sunday that it became clear that one of the senior surgeons at Leeds Hospital had actually been banned from carrying out operations! I genuinely dread to think what could have prompted that decision.
So far there is absolutely no hint that the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has accepted any of the criticisms or that there could be any sort of problem – its representatives said that the hospital would be supported by external specialists and ‘independently validated’.
But what’s really striking about this, apart from all the controversy caused by some Bruce and its timing [just one day after the High Court decided that the process in coming to the closure decision was ‘legally flawed’] is, just like Stafford hospital, that the data and the history of these scandalous deaths and levels of client care is nothing new. Much of the data has been around for ages – and yet still there is a knee-jerk response to defend the hospital, regardless of its effect on patient’s lives.
Let’s hope that the Francis report, with its new “duty of candour” and its ban on “gagging clauses” in NHS contracts” changes this appalling culture of secrecy. Medical negligence claim solicitors have known for years, which are the dodgy hospitals – the data is widely available and the excellent Dr Foster website run by the Dr Foster research team at University College, has consistently pointed out which hospitals don’t follow best practice and which have worrying levels of fatalities and other quality markers. So none of this is really news – it’s just that the crisis has grown so great that no longer can it be ignored.
Therefore expect plenty more revelations in the next few months – let’s hope that this new wave of scandals really does change culture throughout the image – or, failing which we can continue to see an unacceptably high level of deaths, poor general levels of patient care and far too many claims for medical negligence compensation at NHS hospitals nationwide.
I would strongly suggest that we need to get our priorities in order. The most important thing here is not the reputation of the NHS or the closure of individual hospitals – it is about patient care and preventing the unnecessary death of children.
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