23rd April 2013

There was not one but three headline grabbing stories concerning criticism of the NHS over the course of the weekend.

First is the news that somewhere approaching 8,000 NHS staff were being paid over £100,000 last year, a large percentage of which appear to be for management personnel as opposed to Consultants fulfilling clinical roles. This is at a time when there are significant cuts affecting both the levels of pay and staffing in Nursing across hospitals and in Accident & Emergency Departments throughout the UK.

The second was waiting times at A & E departments. The amount of people not being seen within the government's target of 4 hours upon attendance at an Accident & Emergency Department in our region is rising year upon year with Newcastle showing a jump of some 630% increase in people not being treated within 4 hours compared to this time last year.

The numbers of people attending Accident & Emergency continues to rise even where there are alternative schemes for access to primary or urgent care and yet staffing levels are at the same time reducing.

The inevitable consequence of the disparity in staffing levels and patient demands is that some patients are going to suffer neglect.

The third is the response to the government's stated intent of requiring nurses to undertake a 12 month healthcare assistant role at the start of their career following the Robert Francis Inquiry into the failings at the Staffordshire Hospital, one of the biggest scandals in the history of the NHS, in which numerous patients were simply not afforded care leading to many instances of neglect. It was the lack of nursing staff numbers that featured high in the report produced by Robert Francis QC following the inquiry. The Francis Inquiry recommended there be a review of the staffing levels but the government in its first response to the Inquiry have not indicated that that is a recommendation they intend to further investigate at this stage, rather suggesting that all nurses should spend at least 12 months at the start of their careers as a healthcare assistant.

The Royal College of Nursing representing the nurses of the UK have responded by highlighting to the government that during training a large percentage of time is spent carrying out healthcare assistant tasks and it is not in their view the lack of training that caused the problems at the Staffordshire Hospital but more the lack of numbers of available staff. What came out of the Francis Inquiry was the repeated failure of management to listen to staff concerns of under resourcing, a fact that some cited as the reason many of the nursing staff criticised during the enquiry acted the way they did.

The rise in high level salaries being apparently paid to managers that is taking place at the same time as cuts are being made to frontline clinical staff is something I would not expect to be able to justify to the families and patients involved in the Francis Inquiry including Julie Bailey whose mother died in Stafford Hospital and who has gone on to form the Cure the NHS Campaign Group.

On the issue of money the Francis Inquiry was undertaken at considerable expense and it seems incongruous for a government with the benefit of input from those involved in the care at Stafford Hospital to decide to ignore one of the core conclusions of that inquiry in not only keeping staffing levels the same but apparently pressing ahead with further cuts that will likely bring about a further drop in staff numbers in the NHS. Such a plan is only likely to ensure we have repeats of Staffordshire in the future.