Last week, the Chief Executive of Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells Hospital Trust resigned. It wasn't before time. She had presided over four years of chaos and failure. I know, because I live there and saw at first hand what was going on. Local MPs' postbags were full of complaints about what was happening, with terrible tales of the standard of care received by them or their relatives. Today's Healthcare Commission report shows that 90 people died in the hospitals run by this Trust over the last few years. So there are ninety families who put their relative in the care of the NHS and it let them down in the most terrible way possible. We have to ask ourselves why this is.
In the same way that the first duty of any government is the defence of the realm, surely the first duty of a hospital is to protect its patients from harm. Yet patients in Maidstone hosptial were allowed to lie in their own excrement and staff were "too rushed" to even wash their hands regularly. Why? Well, in part it was down to government targets.
Helen Wood, the author of the Healthcare Commission report published today said this morning: "I would think the lessons, not just about cleanliness, hygiene and infection control, but the care provided to patients who contract C.difficile is something that has wider lessons for the NHS." She might have added that there are lessons on targets for the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, too.
Nigel Ellis, head of investigations at the Healthcare Commission, told BBC One's Breakfast: "The hospital trust didn't even pick up the first of the two outbreaks... wasn't aware that it was an outbreak at the time. And when the second outbreak came about, they were still not quick enough to act to take the steps that we would consider to be reasonable." He said the commission concluded that "presumably their priorities were elsewhere". He added: "There is no reason that the safety of patients in this way can be considered to be a secondary consideration."
Commenting on Alan Johnson’s denial today in the media that his government’s financial mismanagement of our NHS and its centrally imposed targets are in any way accountable, Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Listening to Alan Johnson this morning makes me even more worried than I was before. He is a health secretary in denial refusing to face up to the facts. But this report is clear. Unprecedented cuts in the number of acute hospital beds, the government’s target culture, financial mismanagement and deficits leading to a shortage of nursing staff have blighted the fight against infection in our hospitals."
Because I live in the area this concerns me quite a lot. Many people here now regard Maidstone Hospital in particular with huge suspicion. Some people refuse to be admitted because they are worried about contracting c-difficile. This report will merely confirm their worries. There's a huge task ahead for the new Trust Chief Executive.