Image by Laura Mary via Flickr
The Patients’ Association has published a dossier outlining what they call “shameful attitudes” to the care of elderly patients.
Katherine Murphy, the Association’s Director, did not mince her words:
We cannot ignore the fact that some trusts are not even paying lip service to the fundamentals of care.
The issues we continue to highlight are human rights issues. They show a lack of compassion and care and a shameful attitude to treatment of the elderly.
The government, however, was brushing it all off with platitudes:
The government said it was determined to “root out poor performance”…
A programme of unannounced inspections would continue, the Department of Health added…
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “The Patients Association is right to raise these examples and issues, and we will work with them and with the NHS to sort these problems out.”
Angela Rippon was on the Today programme this morning for the Patients’ Association, talking about the report. She specifically made the point that the issues are not confined to care of the elderly, but are widespread across the NHS. After going through the appalling neglect that was highlighted in the report, however, she went off at a tangent.
She started talking about how most nurses in the NHS are “superb” and provide “wonderful care”, and the problems are all the fault of “a few rotten apples in the barrel”.
She has completely missed the point. The problem is not a few rotten nurses, but an entirely rotten system. That system drives even good nurses to behave badly. It cripples them with red tape. It takes control away from them, and gives it to bureaucrats. It demoralises and demotivates them. They are victims of that NHS system, just as much as the patients are.
And the same goes for those overworked doctors, rushing from patient to patient with never enough time, and for the ancillary workers too, paid a pittance and held in contempt by the system because they are doing menial but vital tasks like cleaning the floor or serving dinner.
The nurses are just human beings, doing a job. The system is what is wrong, not “a few rotten apples in the barrel” that simply need to be rooted out.
The NHS is driven by top-down centralised management and that is the cause of the widespread – and they really are widespread – failings of the NHS.
As I blogged before, Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, is trying to push through reforms to put the service in the hands of groups of GPs, called GP Consortia. And the response of the bureaucrats? They have set up a new body to “oversee” the Consortia, headed up by the guy who is currently NHS Chief Executive. In other words, they are turning the GP Consortia into clones of the old Primary Care Trusts, and keeping an iron grip on the central control of the service.
Like so many of her generation, Ms Rippon just can’t quite grasp that the NHS is utterly broken, that its problems are inherent in the way it is set up. They cling on for dear life to that comfortable fantasy, that the NHS will always look after them, and make sure they never suffer. They see it as a great big much-loved teddy bear, a bit threadbare but always there for a hug.
It is time we grew up, and saw the NHS for what it is. Our hospitals are characterised by sloppy care, bureaucratic waste, filthy wards and demoralised staff. The care they provide is too often scandalous. People are dying – literally – because of its failings.
For decades the Left have peddled the lie that the only alternative to today’s monolithic NHS is a free market free for all, and held up the spectre of health services “like the ones in America”. And Ms Rippon’s generation have – almost to a man and woman – been suckered by that lie.
But that is what it is. A lie. Other countries do better.
I have visited a hospital in Ukraine. As you would expect with a relatively poor country that was part of the Soviet Union, there are many problems. Drugs are in short supply, for example, and corruption rife. But I’ll tell you this. That hospital was spotless. The floor, from wall to wall and in the corners as well, gleamed. The window sills were shiny. The whole building smelled strongly of disinfectant, just as NHS hospitals used to when I grew up in the 1960s. Basically, despite all the problems, the people running that hospital knew what they were doing, and had discipline and the right priorities.
By contrast, the large NHS hospital I visited frequently while my first wife was ill with cancer in 2000 was drab and run down, with grubby floors and an air of aimless chaos. Until one day I pressed the wrong button in the lift and went up to the administrative levels by mistake. Those levels were well decorated, with a nice and spotless carpet on the floor and row upon row of offices with computers on the desks. It was clear to me where the priorities of that hospital lay. OK, that was a decade ago. Have things really changed for the better since then? I doubt it.
The problems of the NHS cannot be eliminated without entirely reforming the system. Until then, the poor performance won’t be rooted out. The problems won’t be sorted out, and the unannounced inspections will achieve nothing except to tell us what we already know – that the NHS is failing.
Perhaps once the NHS Generation of Angela Rippon are gone, we can start a grown up debate about the future of Britain’s health services. Until then, people will go on suffering and dying.