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Guest blog - Stafford: A town that stopped talking and started shouting

By Staf Newsletter  |  Posted: March 04, 2013

Comments (2)

When we come to write the story of Stafford Hospital, writes health campaigner Diana Smith, it may be the story of a town that stopped talking and started shouting.


Some of our citizens were hurt. They needed to be listened to and it is unfortunate that they did not know how to look for people who could have listened to them well.

Then they found the newspapers. It was I think at that point that conversation became impossible. Stories told through the press, especially if only one side is heard, can sound like accusations. If they are at times a little “improved in the telling” then the unfairness can be deeply offensive.

With hurt feelings on all sides the answer would have been for peace makers to play a role, but – and there is a warning here – an election was due.  Instead of calmly seeking to understand the problems and to seek a resolution, then I am afraid people who really should have known better stoked the fires which have left our hospital smouldering for four long years.

Well now we have an answer of a kind. After many millions of pounds, and many millions of words the inquiry that people wanted so much has left our hurt citizens still hurting.

As the academics start to look at the detail of the report we can see that the idea that Stafford was a uniquely terrible hospital is now simply untenable.

Few people have yet found their way to section 5 of the Francis report which shows us how extremely shaky the ubiquitous myth of the “excess deaths” actually is.

An extraordinary post by Steve Walker lays the weakness of these figures out on the table

The influential editor of the Health Service Journal is still being cautious but makes the point “The inaccurate fig of 1000 deaths at Mid Staffs now appears to have become 'fact' - I fear it's an indication of level of debate”.

In the less colourful reality, the Francis report helps us to see that the problems of staffing levels that affected Mid Staffs in 2006/7 have now become an issue throughout the NHS, and that hospitals nationally and internationally are struggling to deal with the demands of the frail elderly. 

The report has helped us to see a health service in which people try hard and cope well enough most of the time, but where services and individuals are working on the edge of what is possible.

The story is not over yet. As I write today a nurse is being hauled in front of the GMC to answer the accusation that she faked waiting time statistics, - (something that I suspect many hospitals are probably feeling they must do).

The police at the request of the new PCC are dusting off old case notes to see if anyone can be blamed for anything. 

The protestors who have been pursuing David Nicholson around the country are off to London for a ring side seat for his appearance in front of the Select Committee. 

Much of this will be for the history books.

But here, now in our town we are left with a toxic legacy.

Hospitals, now that they are viewed as businesses, must live within their budgets.

Mid Staffs, for historical reasons, compounded by the unique difficulties of the last five years, and by a tariff system designed to force A&Es to close, cannot do this.

Monitor were instructed to invent a “failure regime” for hospitals that fail to balance their books. Mid Staffs has become the testing ground for this and the administrators are coming to town.

This is a huge challenge for the town. The administrators job is to give us a service we can afford. 

This may not be in line with the services that we want and need.

Our problems may have begun because we did not know how to talk to each other, and how to resolve the real difficulties that we had.

The outcome from our encounter with the administrators may depend on our ability as a community to put aside factional interests and learn very rapidly to work together. 


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  • Staf Newsletter  |  March 06 2013, 10:59PM

    Its too late Diana, you were fooled, suckered by the lure of a new localised health service. You single handedly neutered the Labour Party response to the changes at the hospital. You clothed yourself in the detail of Dilnot and the inquiries, but missed the main thrust of the legislation to break up the NHS. You still even now listen to the shrill voices of those who continue to fool you into thinking that these changes can now be opposed, MP's coucillors and others, who all voted FOR the NHS Bill the most bitterly opposed bill in living memory. It is the bill that was the danger, and you refused to see it, so lost were you in the assurances that the hospital could not be downgraded. Its over Diana, the cause is lost, we could have fought this tooth and nail and won, but you took the Labour Politicians with you to a "watching brief" and there was no one left to fight, just lone voices like mine. A very Sad day for the people of Stafford

  • Pendragon  |  March 05 2013, 3:59AM

    Let the sensible voices be heard for a change ! Drowned out by the anger and accusations are the stories of the of lives saved and the decent care given out at Stafford Hospital every day ?. We live in a shout and blame culture, where alligations are headlines even though they have to be proved. Yes Nurses are having their names dragged through the mud to satisfy the angry mob and the sanctamonious onlookers who have never worked a day in a real life hospital. Most watch casualty on TV and presume to know what "really goes on in a hospital". Nurses have to work long thankless hours, with pressure to perform from governments obsessed with "targets" and less than grateful customers. Once the real stories are reported and the facts replace the hype I hope there will be the same noise made to thank our health care staff.