As yet another Government minister, Ben Gummer this time, labels agencies as a ‘rip off’. I’d like to ask Mr Gummer a question, but first it’s about time someone started to talk about the real issues confronting the NHS and their staffing shortages.
Perhaps Mr Gummer has the memory of a goldfish, but the rest of us can just about, sort of, remember something called ‘The Francis Report’ into the problems associated with the collapse of care in Mid Staffs. I know ‘a week is a long time in politics’, so going back to February 2013 is probably a real stretch for Mr Gummer, but the general gist of the report was that, poor training, a concentration on achieving targets, low staff morale and a lack of trained staff in particular, led to, according to a Guardian article published in 2013, between 400 and 1200 premature deaths during a 4 year period between 2004 and 2009.
When the report was published it was a very hot topic, now however 3 years on, not so hot! The fact is Mr Gummer, it’s just lazy to suggest the woes of the NHS could all be recrified if only those horrid nasty agency people would stop charging too much for their staff.
Without those agency staff hospitals across the country would be closing their doors in their droves, of course it’s very easy to lay the blame for a huge problem at the door of agencies, they’re a relatively small group with a pretty useless trade association, (yes REC I’m talking about you), and they have little power to talk back, but it’s the staff they supply who’re currently keeping the wards open.
The real split personality of this government, at least when it comes to the NHS is laid wide open for all to see on this issue. A Tory government, supposed to be led by Thatcher ideals and chiefly amongst them ‘market forces’, is somehow trying to solve a problem by capping the price it will pay for a commodity in short supply. The term ‘commodity’ when used in association with NHS staff is of course controversial, but that’s exactly what lies at the root of this problem. For years now the cost of training staff has driven the number of training places made available to potential Nursing students and now we have the ultimate outcome, it takes 4 years to complete a nursing degree and preceptorship, so even if the NHS significantly increased the number of places to potential nurses it would be at least 4 years before we had enough people to ‘properly;’ staff our wards.
The wider problem for the NHS is not limited to staffing, the political parties in this country have short changed us all to the point where anyone who dares to suggest reform of the NHS is instantly castigated and risks political oblivion, so a state of uneasy stasis exists, where blows are traded in the run up to an election but nobody ever actually has the courage to suggest anything genuinely new.
Please don’t take my word for it Mr Gummer, how about one of the NHS’s most senior figures, Dame Julie Moore, Head of University Hospitals Birmingham and Heart of England NHS Trusts, said in a recent Times article: ‘The NHS is failing because of gross incompetence among hospital executives and poor leadership at every level’.
The problems she’s talking about can be seen on a practical level every week in the NHS, last week an NHS Trust in Chorley Lancashire, had to temporarily downgrade it’s A&E department due to staff shortages, the cap on agency staff has been cited as a direct reason for the problems Chorley has encountered. Chorley is not unique, Hospitals and NHS Trusts all over the country are now wondering how they can make the staff they have stretch to cover the hours required to keep hospitals open.
At the beginning of this piece I said I had question for the Minister, so Mr Gummer, is your ‘throw away, catch all, flippant’, comment about ‘rip off’ agencies designed to make you look ‘tough, purposeful and full of action’, or is it designed to divert attention away from the real issues, poor quality care due to rock bottom staff morale, a lack of leadership from the top down, or as Dame Julie suggests, a cadre of senior NHS executives so scared of making a decision for fear of losing their jobs, that they end up sitting on their hands and trying to please their masters in Westminster whilst their staff work ever longer hours in an effort to paper over the cracks which mean their hospitals and care establishments disintegrate around their ears?
Don’t worry Mr Gummer I don’t expect a reply, I’m sure you’re far too busy looking for another scapegoat on which to build your political career.