Next Tuesday, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh will publish the findings of his investigation into 14 NHS hospital trusts, of which my local hospital is one.
Tameside Hospital, which serves the majority of my Denton and Reddish constituency in Greater Manchester, has – to put it politely – had a troubled recent past. It has been the subject of a number of reports into ‘failings’, high mortality rates and poor standards of care.
Last week, we celebrated the 65th Anniversary of the National Health Service. The NHS is, rightly, a much loved institution across the United Kingdom, as evidenced by the rather quirky set-piece in Danny Boyle’s fantastic opening ceremony at London 2012. Over those six and a half decades, our NHS has transformed this country – we have a healthcare system that’s free at the point of delivery, not based on your ability to pay.
I have no special insight into the Keogh Report’s findings, but if it is anything like the two internal NHS reports leaked to the national media last week, which precipitated the (in my opinion long overdue) resignation of the Hospital’s Chief Executive and Medical Director, then it is not likely to make for happy reading in Tameside.
But in recent months, some people – including, appallingly, the Secretary of State – have tried to paint the NHS as broken and clapped out, to justify their own damaging and ideological ‘reforms’. They were bitterly opposed by many and yet forced onto the statute book by stealth by the Tories and their LibDem co-conspirators.
Let’s nail that lie right now: The NHS is not broken or clapped out, but nor am I naïve enough to think that it is it perfect everywhere. The real challenge is to drive excellence through the NHS, and that’s what Government frankly should be seeking to achieve. Where local NHS services are substandard or failing, that is a betrayal of all the NHS stands for and I know this from my own local experience.
Before the election, the local MPs went to see the then Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, to outline our very specific concerns about Tameside. To his credit, Andy listened, and was determined to act. I vividly recall him very firmly telling his officials, who were perhaps less keen to intervene, that there is no place for poor care in our NHS. On Andy’s instruction, both Monitor, the Foundation Trust regulator, and the Care Quality Commission were brought in to put pressure on Tameside to improve. And because of that intervention, improvements were made. But progress was hampered at a local level by bad leadership reluctant to accept anything was wrong.
Most of my constituents will only ever have received good care from the many dedicated staff at Tameside Hospital; but a not insignificant number have not. A couple of years ago, I, myself, was desperately ill. It led to me having two lengthy spells in Tameside. On both occasions, I witnessed some of the very best of care available from dedicated NHS staff. They were superb, compassionate, caring and professional. But, if I’m being honest, I also personally witnessed some of the worst care possible.
I am pleased the Chief Executive has finally fallen on her sword. She was a big part of the problem at Tameside. She didn’t listen to the concerns of the professionals: the doctors, nurses, or the support staff. Hers was, for some, a reign of fear. I really do hope that the new interim Chief Executive, coming from the neighbouring – and excellent – Wythenshawe Hospital, will bring in the bottom-up changes my local hospital so desperately needs.
Andrew Gwynne is Member of Parliament for Denton and Reddish and a Shadow Health Minister.
This blog piece was originally written for the Huffington Post UK.