A well known political ploy is to release bad news at the same time as some other major issue hits the headlines. The past few weeks have seen a lot of media focus on the EU withdrawal bill, the World Cup and President Trump’s actions over illegal immigration. The announcement that the NHS will receive additional funding (from higher taxes) also dominated the headlines. Buried in all of this was the latest scandal from the NHS – the needless deaths of hundreds of patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.
A report authored by the former Bishop of Liverpool James Jones (who also ran the Hillsborough inquiry) found that of 1,500 deaths studied at the hospital 456 died following inappropriate administration of opioid drugs and possibly 200 more patients died prematurely as a consequence. The report named Dr Jane Barton, a GP who worked as a clinical assistant and found that she had been overprescribing opioids to patients from the mid 1990s. What is particularly disturbing is evidence that other professionals and managers at the hospital knew about it and not only did nothing; they bullied whistle blowers into silence. The matter has been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration so we don’t know if Dr Barton was at fault, all we do know is that she was named and we also know that 456 people were killed. Whatever the truth of it, the calls from some quarters to consider this as a crime of mass murder I find hard to ignore – a simple test for you, don’t say 456 people died, say 456 people were killed as I have just done, then see how you think.
A rogue nurse or physician has a particular dread given the trust that is placed in medical professionals. Fortunately such rogues are rare and they are certainly not unique to this country. However they do seem to be able to operate more freely and thus kill more people if they work for the NHS. This is not the first time hundreds of people have died at the hands of the NHS, Between 1975 and 1998 Harold Frederick Shipman killed an estimated 250 people most of whom were elderly women. Shipman’s murderous activities were not halted by anyone from the NHS; it was John Shaw, a taxi driver who reported to the Police that he suspected Shipman of murdering his patients.
The Alder Hey scandal although not involving the deaths of patients provides a further example of how malpractice flourishes within the NHS. Professor van Velzen retained organs from children’s post mortems at the Alder Hey hospital without the consent of the parents. The anguish this caused to grieving parents who yet again had to attend a beloved child’s graveside is unimaginable but a troubling aspect is that there were already concerns about Professor van Velzen before he was appointed to the post, perhaps what is worse there was no monitoring of his performance thereafter.
Once again it was not the NHS that halted Professor van Velzen’ s pitiless practices, it was the determination of Helen Rickard who lost her 11 month year old daughter (who died undergoing open heart surgery). Helen demanded to see a copy of her daughter’s medical notes and found out that the pathologist had retained her daughter’s heart. This took place at a different hospital – the Bristol Royal Infirmary but thanks to Helen an inquiry was set up that uncovered what was going on at Alder Hey.
The Gosport report was not the result of any action from the NHS it was the result of campaigning over two decades by the families affected. The NHS not only seems incapable of intervening where medical malpractice is concerned it does its utmost to conceal it, to punish those who to speak out and to protect the perpetrators. How many more examples do we need before people realise the NHS is not the shining guardian of the nation’s health it would have us believe?
In an earlier blog I argued that whilst I support the provision of universal healthcare, I maintain the NHS is one of the worst systems that could be designed to deliver it. Spain and the Netherlands are two examples of countries that have much better systems – and much better outcomes for their patients. Yet here we are – throwing more taxpayer’s money at a system that systematically kills hundreds of its patients and carries on as though there is nothing wrong.
Of all the countries in the world that have adopted universal healthcare not a single one of them has copied the NHS model but rather than considering a different approach our politicians have weaponised the NHS, Labour sees it as some form of medical Stormtrooper to be sent into battle in every election campaign, the Conservatives too timid and too weak to touch it for fear of a public backlash.
I doubt the money being given to the NHS will much to improve patient outcomes, more likely is that some of it will be used to hire even more Diversity Managers and LBGT Outreach workers, even more will be wasted providing services to people who are not entitled to it and right now, right this minute at a hospital near you people are dying before their time, killed using our money, killed by a bureaucratic machine that has a dark heart.