The Welsh Mid-Staffs?

Darren Millar responds to yesterday’s Andrew’s report on AMBU Health Board.

The NHS has been managed by Labour-run governments in Wales for 15 years – and this is easily one of the most shocking reports into NHS care published during that time. The startling severity of this review’s findings is almost unimaginable. It is inexcusable and indefensible. I am both distressed and dismayed to read the evidence documented and my heart goes out to those patients and their families who have suffered unnecessarily.

The appalling accounts of unforgiveable failings within this report could only have been caused by a catastrophic collapse in systems and processes. A woman overheard saying ‘I am in hell’, a mum who ‘had no medication or food or water for days’, a hospital that left a dad with ‘the cloth and a bowl to wash himself.’ The list goes on; all of it a sickening betrayal of the trust patients and their families place in the NHS. Apologies will do little to put anything right. That said, what has been offered to this point does not go far enough. I have called on Labour’s First Minister and Health Minister to apologise personally to all the victims of these failings and I will continue to do so. While this may put nothing right, it will surely go some way to allaying the desperation and frustration felt by those who have suffered.

The comments made within this report on short term planning within Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board echo views that I have previously expressed on the floor of the Senedd chamber. Professor Andrews highlights too much focus on short-term financial planning for example. He goes so far as to say that the health board was driven by balancing the books each year, which stopped it properly prioritising quality and patient safety. Labour’s decision not to protect the NHS budget in Wales and impose record-breaking cuts has long heaped pressure on frontline staff. This report emphasises just how dangerous that decision has become.

It is clear that communication within the health board has also contributed to these catastrophic failings. The report states that senior managers don’t know who is responsible for what.  This, coupled with the current muddled management structures, has worsened the effects of short term planning delivery, at the expense of patients and their care. Patients constantly felt that the health board simply wasn’t listening to them.   The ABMU Victim Support Group was driven to the lengths criticised in the report because it felt that patients and their relatives were not being listened to – and their complaints were not being addressed.  These are desperate people searching for answers.  If it wasn’t for the sterling campaigns lead by people such as Gareth Williams would the Welsh Government have sat up and taken notice of the failings?  I seriously doubt it.

Make no mistake – while I sincerely hope this review will have a huge role to play in drastically improving care at the Princess of Wales and Neath Port Talbot hospitals – I also believe its terms of reference were far too narrow. Paediatric and other adult care systems were ignored and – if there are severe issues of concern within elderly care – it is very unlikely that it is the elderly alone who have been affected.

Guarantees that this chaos is not happening elsewhere are urgently required and all the report’s recommendations must be implemented swiftly and efficiently.

In conclusion – and despite Welsh Labour’s inevitable claims to the contrary – if it looks like a Mid-Staffs scandal, smells like a Mid-Staffs scandal, and moves like a Mid-Staff scandal, then it probably is another Mid-Staffs. Ultimately – there remains only one way to wholly guarantee a safe National Health Service for future generations: a Wales-wide independent Keogh-style inquiry.

Darren Millar is the Shadow Spokesperson for Health.

3 thoughts on “The Welsh Mid-Staffs?

  1. I am still suffering from the horror and emotional distress after seeing what happens to the elderly in Princess of Wales and in the care of Bridgend Social Services. Social services were rude, condescending I hope I never find myself at their mercy.

  2. Sandra, the truly terrifying thing is that, based on personal observation, and the experience of relatives and friends, the NHS in Wales has a ‘culture of care’ problem that extends well beyond Bridgend.

    Although it must be stressed that most people in the NHS are competent professionals possessed of the standard amount of human compassion, healthcare is only as strong as its weakest link.

    Reading the “Trusted to Care” Report, the most frightening line is a comment by the authors themselves:

    “There is a popular misconception that care in hospital is more intense (sic) than care that can be provided at home and it is therefore, somehow, better and safer. It is important to make clear that sometimes fundamental aspects of being cared for in hospital are inevitably worse than if care could be provided at home.” (3.14)

    If this is really the official attitude to ‘culture of care’ then why should anyone ever go to hospital? After all, most of us would rather stay at home. Are we actually better off there, with whatever amateur support might happen to be available, than in the care of trained professionals in a hospital? It seems so, according to the report.

  3. No-one with half a milligram of compassion could fail to be moved and shocked by the stories of patients’ experiences emanating from the report. But this article focuses largely on rehearsing the emotional response to the report and, as one would expect from the opposition, the line of criticism of the Government. What is lacking is an alternative response to the Government’s plans. Mark Drakeford’s response was to accept the report in its entirety, inform all hospitals that they have four weeks to implement the recommendations after which there would spot checks. If this is inadequate, Darren Millar needs to say why and what he would do instead. I also don’t agree that this was a Mid-Staffs scale disaster though, had it continued unabated, it could easily have become one.

    For me, the most significant event on Tuesday was the unreserved apology made on the floor of the Senedd. Listening to people from difficult walks of life at various events, poor quality of management surfaces as a frequent topic of conversation. I wonder to what extent being far from the centre of accountability at Westminster until 1999 led to a culture of complacency not just to be found in the Welsh NHS. On Tuesday, evidence of this culture of complacency broke the political surface in a way that was unanswerable and gave the Government the evidence it needed to act; time will tell as to whether these actions will prove adequate.

    In 1912, Justice Louis Brandeis of the US Supreme Court wrote that “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” It is only small but perhaps on Tuesday we saw a glimmer of hope that the people who abuse and neglect those in their care will be left with nowhere to hide and a great many questions to answer.

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