A STAFFORD health campaigner has dismissed the weekend’s coverage of the forthcoming Francis Report as speculation and warned the interests of the national press may lie elsewhere than those of the people of the town.
Diana Smith, of Save Stafford Hospital said it was ‘depressing but not at all surprising’ to see national press choosing to pre-empt publication of Sir Robert Francis QC’s report on their front pages.
“The articles hint that the journalists are ‘in the know’, but the Department of Health has dismissed them as pure speculation,” she said. “There is nothing new here, and nothing that cannot be gleaned either from back copies of the Times and Telegraph, or from some educated guesses based on a cursory glance at the Public Inquiry archive.”
Ms Smith said she had spent months at the Public Inquiry listening carefully to the evidence given and she had been struck by how little interest the national press had taken in the process.
“There were around 50 seats reserved for the press,” she said. “Most days there were two occupied.
“Sometimes there was someone from regional BBC or from the Health Service Journal and on days when dramatic revelations were eagerly anticipated we sometimes saw one or two national reporters.
“All of the journalists appeared to accept without question that there had been large numbers of unexpected deaths, despite the fact that this has never appeared in any report, and has been actively challenged by both the Colin Thome report, and the Robert Francis Independent report.
“These excess death figures, like the current front page splashes, started life as unattributed leaks.”
“The fixed idea of the excess deaths was the filter through which the journalists interpreted the evidence they heard.”
Ms Smith said she had spent a large porting of the recent holiday period looking over some of the headlines which were the result of these ‘fixed ideas’ and considering the ‘incalculable’ damage that had been done to the service in Stafford.
“The national press is only very selectively interested in Mid Staffs, and has no regard at all to the challenge of keeping the service that we need for the people of this area,” she said. “Stafford is again in danger of being used as a pawn.
“It was the justification for health reforms that so many increasingly question, and Stafford and many other hospitals with identifiable problems are now being used by those who wish to justify the downgrade of hospitals throughout the country.”
Ms Smith said she had great respect for Robert Francis.
“He is a wise man,” said Ms Smith. “We have spent many millions for his team to be able to evaluate a huge amount of complex evidence.
“We need to wait to see what he has to say, and we should resist the temptation to rush to instant comment.”