THE BLOG

Tories: Undermining the NHS and Playing Politics With Mid Staffordshire

28/03/2013 16:09 GMT | Updated 28/05/2013 10:12 BST

Today's The Huffington Post UK post from my colleague on the Health Select Committee, Chris Skidmore, is yet another attempt by the Conservative Party to use the terrible tragedy at Stafford Hospital to apportion blame when what is needed is a consensus to move forward. What happened at Stafford was a betrayal of everything the NHS should stand for. It is important that others do not try to re-write the Francis report for their own political ends.

At the end of the last Labour Government, when these failings became known, it was Andy Burnham who first appointed Robert Francis QC to conduct an independent inquiry into what went wrong. He announced a new chair and chief executive for the Trust and in 2010, following the first report, commissioned Mr Francis to conduct a second independent inquiry.

We must all - ministers, former ministers and NHS staff - use the latest Francis Report to try and eradicate these errors. But after a three year inquiry, the government have made no full response to implement the considered recommendations from the report.

On Tuesday 26 March 2013 the government had the opportunity to respond to these points but Jeremy Hunt's statement fell far short of the promises the prime minister made in his statement last month.

Robert Francis said that it was primarily a failure of the local board; that nurse staffing levels had been cut too low; that there was poor communication between regulators; and, importantly, that ministers were not to blame and no individual should be made a scapegoat.

He made a very clear case for a new system of healthcare assistant regulation to improve standards and recommended nurse to patient ratios on wards to ensure they are properly staffed. Not only did the government ignore these points this week, there is already proof that things are going in the opposite direction following the Health and Social Care Act.

Nursing jobs continue to be cut across the NHS - they have not learnt a key lesson from Mid Staffordshire. The Care Quality Commission has recently reported that one in 10 hospitals in England do not have adequate staffing levels and figures released last week show the NHS lost 834 nurses in a single month, now almost 5,000 since the General Election. The NHS cannot deliver the high quality of care we all want if it is over-stretched and understaffed.

For all the government's tough talk of protecting the NHS, £2.2bn from the NHS budget was handed back to the Treasury in last week's budget. Ministers have let care standards slip as they obsess over an unnecessary reorganisation that's taken £3bn out of patient care when the frontline is making unprecedented savings. Patients are waiting longer in A&E, are struggling to get GP appointments and are increasingly being denied treatment as the NHS rations care to grapple with a financial crisis. The Tories are undermining the NHS at every opportunity - demoralising staff and trying to dent public confidence, all so that they can pursue their competition and privatisation plans at full speed.

I am surprised at the attacks in Chris' post. His government has already lost one Secretary of State for Health. After the 1 April his finger should be wagging at those currently in charge of the NHS - his own party.