By David Morris MP
It is right that Jeremy Hunt has apologised for failings of the NHS at Universities of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, but we must remember that the secrecy culture in the NHS built up under the last government. We are now awash with scandals about how things were run in the NHS before the coalition began to clean up the mess. Today, the names of those involved in the scandal were released and I welcome this move to make our NHS more transparent.
Jeremy Hunt said in his statement yesterday that the hospital regulator should be an organisation that stands up for patients without fear or favour. Yet Labour ministers – whose interest is spin and self preservation - tasked the regulator with ticking boxes and closing down problems. The former chair of the CQC, Baroness Young, has made very serious allegations that ministers 'leaned on' her to 'tone down' criticism of NHS organisations. She claims that "there was huge government pressure, because the government hated the idea that a regulator would criticise it". Damningly, she revealed that this political pressure peaked under current shadow health secretary's Andy Burnham's tenure as secretary of state. This is why Labour turned down 81 separate requests for a public inquiry into the Mid Staffs scandal.
In my constituency, the Morecambe Bay cover-up has sent shock waves through our community bringing pain to families already struggling to come to terms with devastating losses. There are many questions left to answer. The hospital must prove beyond doubt that services have been transformed since the scandal. The leaders of the local health authorities at that time - supposedly in charge of performance managing the hospital - must come clean on what they knew about the suppressed CQC report. The regulator itself must provide urgent assurances that those responsible for this sickening cover-up face career-ending consequences as well as the full force of the law.
Over time Labour ministers developed a standard prescription for NHS failure. First, dither. Check tick-box compliance and allow defensive managers to blame bureaucratic errors in reporting of deaths. We saw this to devastating effect at Mid Staffordshire, where unnecessary deaths went unchecked for many months because they were put down to 'coding discrepancies' . Second, denial. Lean on regulators to tone down frank assessments of NHS failure, particularly around election time. Third, dismissal. When all else fails promise that this was an isolated incident, and as a result fail to learn lessons or spot similar problems elsewhere.
The CQC is getting its house in order - ordering and publishing the inquiry, holding hands up, and clearing-out the bad apples on the board. By contrast, Labour has refused to account for Baroness Young's allegations, refused to apologise for Labour's cover-up culture, and has stubbornly opposed the Conservatives' overhaul of their failed tick-box inspection regime. In fact, Andy Burnham derided the appointment of a powerful chief inspector with the authority and judgement to call out problems as 'heavy-handed regulation'. He calls it 'heavy-handed'; I call it 'speaking truth to power', and my constituents rue the day he stamped this out at a time when babies were dying at Morecambe Bay.
David Morris is Conservative MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale.
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