Blog Archives

Mid Staffs is a man-made scandal

I have not written about anything that causes me so much pain as this article does. This is because as a Briton, proud of what my country has achieved down the ages, I am ashamed of the shocking scandal unfolding in what was meant to be our pride and joy: the NHS. Nothing in my experience begins to compare with the sheer magnitude of it all; the needless deaths, through wanton neglect, of almost certainly thousands of people in our hospitals.

COMRADE: Fish rot from the head

SIR DAVID NICHOLSON: Fish rot from the head

Fish rot from the head and any man – and we speak of Sir David Nicholson – who believed that the totalitarian system that was once the USSR was a good thing should never have been put in charge of such an organisation as the NHS. Apparently his hero was the gruesome Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev. It shocked me how readily and swiftly the PM and Heath Secretary sprang to his defence. Perhaps it was because Nicholson had a reputation, when ordered to do things, of carrying out those orders. While that may be so, the consequences, as whistleblowers made clear to Nicholson, was an unfolding tragedy of epic proportions. But orders are orders and Nicholson ploughed on, heedless of the human misery he was unleashing. In order to achieve his purpose and and keep to his ‘good’ name as a man who could be relied on to deliver, a climate of fear was created throughout the NHS. How very USSR-like.

I will not detail the horror stories which have emerged: you are all familiar with them. But instead of being reassured, looked after and returned to health, where possible, people died in their hundreds, indeed – across the NHS – in their thousands. A single hospital stands accused of up to 1,200 deaths.

We all remember the unconscionable time we often waited for routine operations and A&E. The last government decided to do something about it. Everything was done with the best of intentions, but as we all know, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. When it became apparent that their action plan was not working out, another well known maxim kicked in: the law of unintended consequences. At that point Nicholson and his Labour masters should have paused and taken stock. But they did not.

So what has become of us that we have failed in almost the most fundamental of all our duties, the care of our old? When our troops burst in on Belson concentration camp they found a level of horror – of man’s inhumanity to man – not known in the whole of human experience. We put the perpetrators on trial and hanged them. At their trial they pleaded that they were obeying orders. What they did not plead – though they might have done – was that they had been conditioned for years to see their victims not as human beings, but as the lowest of the low – a sub-species – not worthy of using up precious resources. I fear that when our old people – be they in care homes or hospitals – fall into frailty, incontinence or dementia, something of a similar attitude takes hold in disquieting numbers among those charged with looking after them. Yet in their case they do not even have the excuse of saying that their government had told them their charges were worthless. So, what is it that allows lethal, criminal neglect, which were it directed at a child or even a dog would send us into paroxysms of fury ending in stiff prison sentences but does not do so with our old and helpless? I truly do not understand it!

What is incredible is that the unfeeling apparatchik who presided over it all was not only not held to account, but promoted to the top job in the NHS. How very public sector-like. And this man – would you believe – is judged by himself (and Cameron) to be the best person to sort it all out even though he admitted to a Commons Select Committee that he had no idea what was going on in the wards. Well, it’s a funny kind of CEO – in whom 90 per cent of his own workforce have no faith – that hasn’t a clue what the troops are up to. And even funnier that such a level of incompetence should inspire the political leadership to think that in this broad land of 63 million there is none better.

The Francis Report into the failings of the Mid Staffordshire Hospital Trust wanted to name names, but using, as ever, our money – just like the BBC – the ‘fingered’ individuals engaged the sharpest, most expensive lawyers in the business to threaten Robert Francis with law suits. After three months of arguments and delay, he buckled. It all, thereafter, magically became the fault of ‘the system’. Nothing, said the chastened Francis, was to be gained by ‘scapegoating’. Sorry, Robert, but people did this thing and people must answer. Start with David Nicholson and move down to ward level. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that the whole farrago involves multiple, pitiless deaths which on a head count makes the Harold Shipman outrage look like a trifling matter. And at least Shipman’s victims were despatched painlessly and their road to Calvary travelled with great expedition.

A chief characteristic that distinguishes our species from every other in the animal kingdom is our sense of dignity. From the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we go to bed, we carefully nurture the image of how we wish the world to perceive us. Take that away and you have inflicted the cruelest of hurts. So being careless of people’s nakedness and forcing them into adult nappies because it is too much trouble to help them to the toilet is unforgivable; to leave them in soiled, cold, soaking sheets covered in their own dried excrement caked in overgrown nails which nurse graduates feel too grand to cut is beyond my powers of description; to force them to struggle to reach for water and food which is beyond reach is totally criminal.

Death is the single most difficult event that any of us will have to handle. To meet it in squalor, neglect and suffering over a protracted period with all dignity stripped away is impossible to equate with a civilised society. In my view we are all guilty, every last one of us – just as the entire German nation was guilty of the Holocaust. In both cases we allowed it to happen on our watch. We strut the world stage fixated on our favourite hobby horse, Human Rights, lecturing anyone unfortunate enough to cross our path on the virtues of compassion, yet we show nothing of it on too many of our wards. Shouldn’t Charity begin at home?

Those charged with looking after the fathers and mothers who fought two World Wars for us, and whose sacrifices in the years following brought us social security and prosperity, have a sacred duty to perform. They should remember that they were not always the sad, helpless individuals they see before them, but once vibrant men and women who held down jobs and brought up children. If it would help them to understand this, let a photo be affixed to the head of every bed to show their carers how they looked in their glory days and let a caption tell the story of who they were and what they did.

Child abuse takes many forms

Any society purporting to call itself civilised has one duty above all others: the protection of its most vulnerable, the young and the old. Even armies on the rampage have generally respected these two imperatives.

We are, however, failing to protect our young in an area that is increasingly coming to the fore: allowing our children to become obese.

The truth is that overfeeding is every bit as damaging as underfeeding, yet a malnourished child turning up at school would pretty soon attract the attention of the authorities.

So let’s look for a moment at the consequences for a child of allowing them to become obese. First, the whole of their school experience becomes a misery; they are be picked on mercilessly, and utterly useless on the sports field; groups would likely shun them and the obese child would become the perpetual outsider; and any consequent emotional scaring would likely be carried into adulthood.

The irony of it all is that they are being set up by those who most protest their love for them for a whole range of illnesses in later life, and condemned to what is almost certainly an early grave.

If this is not abuse, I would very much like to know what is. What form of love is it that a parent would do such a thing to its child?

If we can agree that rescue for the child trumps all other considerations, then what are we to do? It seems elementary that we must work for a solution through the parents. But if, despite all our efforts, a satisfactory outcome cannot be reached, then we should be prepared to remove the child and find a dedicated foster parent.

Moving on to another form of child abuse, the recent ruling of a German court found that circumcision, due to cultural conventions, is a criminal breach of a child’s bodily integrity and of its human rights. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the ruling had to come, from of all countries, Germany. Had it come from a British or American court – both largely free of modern anti-Semitism – there would still have been a howl of protest, but it would have been much muted.

We all abhor FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), and quite rightly it carries a heavy prison sentence. Yet it seems there are over a 100,000 women in our country who have had this procedure done to them and there has not been a single prosecution. Scandalous hardly seems sufficient an adjective.

If we deplore this act of barbarism for young girls, why do we take such a different attitude for young boys? Both involve pain and suffering to no medical end. How can an adult have the right to violate a child’s body?

Surely it is right to take a stand against such primitive and barbaric practices which should have no place in the modern world. If it is deemed important for religious purposes, why could the procedure not be put on hold until the child is of a sufficient age to make an informed decision? If their faith is strong enough, then doubtless they will comply in the fullness of time. But at least the decision would be theirs to make and not one that has been imposed on them.

Muslims as well as Jews will, I have no doubt, be up in arms at what I am suggesting because they too insist on the procedure. But neither faith could succeed in painting me as a bigot since I consider myself a true internationalist. I believe in the oneness and brotherhood of man. There are so many Muslims that I admire, just as there are Jews.

Lawrence of Arabia loved the Arabs and saw great nobility in their culture, and there has always been a strong Arabist lobby in the foreign office. We failed tragically to get a lasting solution that did justice to the Arab cause when we overthrew the Turkish Ottoman yoke in World War One, though all acknowledge that there was no easy solution either then or now.

As for the Jews, I glory in the fact that it was British arms and blood that made possible the state of Israel. So many millions exiled and persecuted around the world deserved a homeland of their own. I only wish we could have achieved the same for the many millions of Kurds as, indeed, we could have done.

I am saddened at how things have turned out, but Israel should heed the wise words of Winston Churchill when he said “in war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity.”

No people in history have suffered in the way the Jewish people have, and no people know better what it is to be dispossessed and scattered to the winds. Pain and suffering puts you in a unique position to understand what it is like to be at the receiving end.

All reasonable Arabs now accept the permanence of the Jewish state – particularly now that, in extremis, it can defend itself with nuclear weapons.

Now is the time for Churchill’s exhortation of ‘magnanimity’ to come into play. Let the children of Zion pick up their winnings and leave the table. They can then go on to be a powerhouse for a resurgence of success and prosperity throughout the benighted Middle East which so fuels the Jihadists’ nihilist dreams. It should not let its fear plunge the area and the world’s fragile economy into chaos with a strike against Iran.

Iran knows perfectly well that it, rather than Israel, that would be “wiped from the map” in the event of a conflagration. The self same pressures which kept the Cold War from becoming hot would come into play were Iran to acquire the bomb.

The irony of it all is that the Jews and Arabs are ethnically the same people: they revere the same prophets and regards each other, along with Christians, as ‘People of the Book’.

What is needed now are cool heads and wise leadership, which could lead to a flowering of a lot of very talented people on both sides of the divide.

%d bloggers like this: