“This is a story of appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people. They were failed by a system which ignored the warning signs and put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety.”
These were the findings of Robert Francis QC into standards of care at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2008, published last week.
Data shows hundreds more deaths than would have been expected took place at the hospital between 2005 and 2008.
Almost 300 recommendations were made in the report with a call for “fundamental change” to prevent the public losing faith in the health service.
As a journalist who covered sessions of the Stafford Hospital Public Inquiry, I know how sensitive a topic it is.
It’s one of the occasions where I have been acutely aware of two opposing viewpoints.
There were those who believed Stafford Hospital was a complete blemish on the community and repeatedly called – and still do – for the heads of top people involved in the management of it during those years.
But equally there were those who would take the line that the media were largely to blame for what was happening to the hospital with constant coverage.
Regularly I would ask myself – is what I am writing a justified story, or is it just a ‘story’ because it’s about Stafford Hospital? Perhaps I still am not sure of the answer.
What the findings do tell us is that some patients were treated appallingly.
We have heard how receptionists were left to decide which patients to treat, how inexperienced doctors were put in charge of critically ill patients, and how other patients were left crying out for help because of a lack of pain relief or food.
It all leads to the question, how could some staff believe it was acceptable to treat people in this manner? Maybe they saw other nurses doing it and so it lessened the impact. Indeed former SS soldiers in Nazi Germany have explained their poor treatment of Jews through reasoning that others were behaving in the same way and they just became immune to the effects of their actions.
Maybe some staff, after years of service in the NHS, had become so automated in their caring that it became purely a task and purely mechanical, rather than based in compassion. Maybe they were under immense stress or overworked?
But what do such actions tell us about morality? Surely nurses still have a choice about how they interact and behave with patients – even if under extreme pressures.
The Bible suggests we’re all guilty of letting our standards slip and that we should not be influenced by whatever is going on around us.
We are told that sin is crouching at our door and we must master it. The book of James also tells us not to be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching but to stand firm. The message is that we are all capable of being influenced by others in one way or another. We are also all transgressors and will always live with the tendency to do wrong things.
Is a nurse not showing proper care any different to when I don’t pay enough attention to a customer’s needs or a reader’s complaints?
Surely with nurses there is a sense that their main duty is to care for others.
Why would you pursue a career in such a delicate profession if you didn’t enjoy it or did not have a love to care for others in pain and during their time of need?
But let’s not pretend all nurses or carers are like this. Most of the people I know – including staff at Stafford Hospital– were kind, loving and dutiful.
Heroines Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa are just two examples of influential people who pioneered care.
We all have examples from our own personal lives too of incredible care and self-sacrifice by those working in the NHS.
Gladly, one of the key recommendations of the Francis Report was an increased focus on compassion for trainee nurses.
There is a danger that when something of the nature of Stafford Hospital occurs, we act as if it is the only lens through which we view the NHS.
I was unimpressed with The Times’ front page the day after the Francis Report was published. “NHS – no one is safe,” it read.
Really? Because no one actually thinks that every hospital, surgery, or health unit in the country is unsafe right now.
Yes, maybe huge changes are needed to ensure the way health is regulated in the future is better, mostly to prevent a repeat of what occurred at Stafford Hospital.
But let’s not think the whole apple is rotten through and state care bereft of beauty and care. After all, for most, the care the NHS offers is a driving force steered by individuals who have a deep passion to help. It’s about people and not organisations as a whole. It’s raw but it’s also human.
There will be some who abuse their privilege to care for others, but they are a tiny minority.
We need to learn from the Francis Report, but we also need to trust the people who are training nurses and healthcare workers.
Most of all, we need to pray any changes in the culture of the NHS which lead from the Francis Report will make it even harder for those in healthcare, intent on harming others, to have a future in such a profession. Intervention and action are key to ensure cruelty cannot go unnoticed and unpunished again.