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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

What does denial look like?

Anger and smugness. Sadly, not really a very edifying parliamentary picture in reaction to failed patient safety issues from the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and a Shadow Health Minister.

I never thought I was political when I was younger – but it turned out, I was, since certain things made me promise to myself I would try to do something about them, if ever I had the chance.

One of these was what I saw happening to my father’s role as a Bristol NHS surgeon, and that of his colleagues.That's part of the reason you may have heard me be so vocal over recent months about how we have let down patients, and doctors who really want to care for them, in our NHS over the last decade .

 I remember the period when the stress of my father's work, and that of his colleagues became much worse in the early 2000s. My dad would come home late, desperately frustrated. New rafts of dominant managers were seizing control over how doctors should prioritise their patients’ care.

 I would listen to my dad’s desperation as he told how he was ordered not to operate on an urgent patient - because there was another less urgent patient about to exceed government enforced waiting times. That patient had to come first. He tried speaking out, and began finding ways of ensuring urgent patients got priority. But I was appalled that he had to break the ‘rules’ to care for patients.

I also remember a colleague of my dad’s complaining that in a Bristol hospital, one of the alphabetically arranged shelves of historic X-Rays had been jammed for some time , and were inaccessible to the doctors who needed them. The patient of course, knew nothing about this.
Talking health with my Dad. I've grown up hearing what it's like at the front line of the NHS

This same doctor also noticed that essential patients’ notes were often unavailable. His complaints led nowhere so he went to the Medical Records room. He found patient’s notes piled high on the floor in corridors between the overloaded shelves, with little hope of finding anyone’s notes. He took photographs and complained to management. When ignored, he threatened to expose the shambles. The result? he had to go off work for six months.

 It was a sadly familiar story for anyone who tried to speak out.

Once, after a personal medical consultation, the doctor, (who knew I was a candidate for the General Election), made a striking appeal. ‘Please help us’, he said; ‘we can’t treat our patients any more and we are silenced if we speak out’. 

The hospital horrors that are tragically hitting our headlines had been silenced until now, by a regime that insisted that the NHS must be portrayed as perfect at any cost. 

That regime is now over, and the truth can emerge. Many have waited years to speak out. As a doctor’s daughter, I know just how committed most of our NHS frontline staff are, and how much NHS care is excellent.

We owe it to them, but primarily to patients, to be honest about failings of the past and hold those responsible at the top to account. We must do a deep clean of our NHS system, and rebuild it with good managers, and professionals re-empowered to do the job they went into the NHS to do:
Not to polish the reputation of an institution for the pleasure of politicians, but to care for patients.

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