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Mid Staffordshire: Andy Burnham Was Either Incompetent or Negligent

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Yesterday Andy Burnham stood before Parliament and, with incredible chutzpah, accused the government of failing to fully respond to the Francis Report. This is, lest we forget, the report that he never wanted, about the NHS trust he so catastrophically recommended for Foundation Trust status.

Why such vocal criticism of a response Robert Francis himself has applauded? As ever, Andy Burnham is trying to distract from the plain fact that he bears a heavy burden of responsibility for what happened at Mid Staffordshire.

He may talk about saving the NHS, but really he's just out to save his own skin. It's time for this circus to end.

Looking at the witness statements it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that Burnham is guilty, at best of incompetence, at worst of gross negligence. He paints a picture of his position in the Foundation Trust approval process as that of a rubber stamp, a simple cog in the mechanism, expected to pass on the recommendations of those below him without applying even a basic level of scrutiny.

Just how little scrutiny he thought was necessary beggars belief. He recommended Mid Staffs for Foundation Trust status on the back of just four lines of evidence, which don't even make reference to quality of care. In fact in these four lines the only positive thing said about the Trust is that it has a 'can-do' attitude.

What kind of minister would make a recommendation on the basis of so little, and such lukewarm evidence? Burnham has contested that this is exactly what was expected of him, scrutiny was to be applied by everyone else. But he knows this isn't true. In his own submission to the inquiry he gives Mike O'Brien as an instance of when a minister of health has refused to support an application recommended to him on the basis of his concerns about the Trust.

Speaking to the Francis Inquiry, David Nicholson made it clear that the level of detail desired by Burnham was surprising, saying that "usually ministers would expect much more detail. But clearly we'd got into a place where ministers didn't really expect that much". He then goes on to express disbelief that this could be the case, "four lines allowed us to put an organisation, which on the face of it wasn't ready to be put forward to Monitor, how would- how could that happen?"

Burnham's understanding of the importance of his role in the process also wasn't shared by Monitor, to whom he was recommending the application. Burnham has said he believed Monitor would have assessed clinical quality. In sharp contrast to his, speaking to the Health Select Committee in March 2009, Bill Moyes, who had been executive chairman of Monitor, admitted that they had a "narrow" assessment process because they "relied on the fact that the Secretary of State supports candidates when they come before us".

It seems that Andy Burnham just didn't want to know. Just as he didn't want to know the full truth about what happened at Mid Staffordshire, instituting a limited inquiry and then, alongside Alan Johnson, ignoring a staggering 81 requests for a full public inquiry over the period they were in charge of the department.

Consistently inconvenient truths have been avoided, leaving many hundreds of families unnecessarily mourning the loss of loved ones. Even if he hadn't caught on to the full scale of the unfolding tragedy in Mid Staffs back in 2007 when he was asked to support the application if he had refused there would have undoubtedly been more focus on it and lives would have been saved.

The organisation representing the families of the victims of Mid Staffs, Cure the NHS, is now calling on him to go. They are outraged that he has not gone, particularly following the recent accusations from Professor Jarman that Burnham did nothing when he received a list of hospital trusts with higher than average death rates in 2010.

Looking at these facts you can't escape that Andy Burnham was either incompetent, or negligent. Take your pick; both are fatal flaws, which had fatal consequences. Burnham should finally face up to his failure, and go.