Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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NHS death rate 45% higher than in United States

NHS is a death trap

NHS is a death trap

So are you going into hospital in the UK’s “wonderful” NHS soon? You might wish you were being treated in America.

Professor Sir Brian Jarman who pioneered the use of hospital standardised mortality ratios (HSMRs) to measure higher (or lower) than expected death rates last week released previously unpublished data showing horrific death rates in NHS hospitals during 2004. Sir Brian was so shocked he thought his data must be wrong and has spent months having his data scrutinised by other academics to look for a flaw in his methodology. They couldn’t find one. Sir Brian then felt compelled to publish and the alarming results were broadcast by Channel 4 News last week.

Sir Brian calculated if you are treated in an NHS hospital you are five times more likely to die from pneumonia and twice as likely to be killed by blood poisoning than if you had the SAME procedure in the United States. Death rates in NHS hospitals in 2004 were also 22.5 per cent higher than six other western countries including Canada and France. Once the figures were adjusted the NHS death rate was 58% higher in England than the average in the best performing of the seven countries.

The data of course is nearly 10 years old and death rates in recent years are not yet available.

The NHS is clearly not the “envy of the world”, as the Left love to call the bloated state provider of healthcare. Once you push past the grinning politicians who extol our “wonderful” doctors and nurses the experience hundreds of thousands of people have when treated by the NHS is far from wonderful. In thousands of cases, families found the NHS needlessly killed their loved one.

So why is the United States far better at keeping people alive when they go into hospital for a routine operation? Professor Sir Brian Jarman believes – rightly in my opinion – that the US has a more transparent health care system that has a culture of flagging up failings so they can be dealt with quickly and subsequently improving the health care service for the patient. In the UK, if a manager or nurse voices a concern about resources on a ward or a drop in safety standards in an operating theatre they can expect to receive the cold shoulder at best, or be sacked (through vexatious performance management procedures) at worse.

The culture in the NHS is the same as the rest of the public sector and summed up best by Sharon Shoesmith, who oversaw the children’s services department at Haringey Council that allowed Baby Peter to die, when in response to that tragedy she said: “I don’t do blame“.

No one in the NHS is held accountable for mistakes. It’s always the disembodied “system” that is at fault. Managers can’t (of course!) blame individuals despite it being an individual nurse who leaves food out of reach of elderly patients or spends so much time stuck in the nurses pod that they don’t realise an elderly woman is being forced to drink water from a dirty vase to stay alive because she has not been provided a drink by our “wonderful” nurses. 

NHS England chief: Sir David Nicholson

NHS England chief: Sir David Nicholson

It’s not just nurses and doctors at fault. Managers in the NHS are also guilty individuals when it comes to preventing needless deaths. Sir David Nicholson, the outgoing boss of NHS England, was a classic case of who gets rewarded and promoted in the NHS. Sir David presided over the deaths of thousands in his previous job as head of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS trust where 3000 died but he “played the game” and ensured no fuss was made and that Stafford Hospital’s goal to achieve the coveted Foundation status was kept on track by meeting Labour’s Whitehall-imposed targets. So what was Sir David’s reward to adhering to the “I don’t do blame” NHS culture? Why, promotion to chief executive of NHS England of course! For good measure, Sir David even went to Parliament when the Mid-Staffordshire killing field was uncovered and lied misled MPs when he said Gary Walker, former head of United Lincolnshire NHS Trust, had not identified himself as a whistleblower when he raised patient safety concerns to Nicholson in a 2009 letter to him. 

Is it any wonder NHS patients are almost 60 per cent more likely to die in hospital compared with patients in the country with the best mortality rates?


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NHS complacency has killed people and continues to harm

Thousands needlessly died but NHS won't learn

Thousands needlessly died but NHS won’t learn

My wife has been unwell for three weeks now, stricken  by a bad case of the flu and followed up by a throat infection.

One of the doctors, who my wife has never seen before, that congregate in our super-clinic, which was once called a GP surgery, saw her on Thursday and provided some antibiotics. Sounds all well and good until you scratch below the surface.

Firstly, they were the wrong type of antibiotic for throat infections and secondly the dosage was far too small (ironic when you read on below).

So we called the out-of-hours GP service, contracted out to Harmoni* on Saturday morning. We were instructed to go up to Ipswich Hospital to see the doctor. We were seen by a GP who lolled around the clinic like a petulant teenager, not making eye contact, and making it patently clear they wished they were tucked up at home with boyfriend and some Bollinger rather than doing her job.

This contemptuous attitude was just the start of our NHS “experience”. The GP made my wife feel it was her problem the super-clinic GP had prescribed the wrong medication on Thursday and then when my wife told the doctor she was allergic to penicillin, the doctor thought it wise to interrogate her as to “what actually happens when you take penicillin?”. Err, not a lot of good happens, doctor!

And then the NHS really showed their incompetence when they prescribed my wife one hundred antibiotics to last a whopping 25 days course. This was clearly an error by the doctor, which if my wife hadn’t spotted it, could have led to over dosage and significant harm. The pharmacist was shocked but only after my wife did a 180 about turn when she realised what she had just been dispensed. People of my generation question authority but an elderly pensioner is likely to think “if doctor says so, it must be right” and would have proceeded to swallow 100 antibiotics over a month rather than the much smaller does over usually one week, potentially leading to significant harm.

No wonder many antibiotics are now resistant to bacteria when you have incompetent doctors like the stroppy girl on Saturday making out the prescriptions.

I complained – naturally – via Twitter and although Ipswich Hospital is not responsible for the work of Harmoni I included them in my tweet, as we were on Ipswich Hospital property during our visit to the out-of-hours doctor. And I believe Ipswich Hospital have a responsibility as a core member of the NHS.

To be fair to Dr David Hartin, the Emergency Care Lead Clinician Lead and Twitterer-in-Chief at Ipswich Hospital, he showed compassion for my wife and directed us to where we could complain about Harmoni’s poor performance. I can’t fault his service but the wider NHS, in my view, is institutionally uncaring (to the point of killing patients) and in vast swathes of the service it is incompetent.

The response by the mainstream political parties to the NHS scandal at Stafford Hospital, where 3,000 patients needlessly died at the hands of nurses and doctors was a disgrace. Sir David Nicholson, who was promoted to head the entire NHS despite being in charge of Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust at the time of the killing fields, is still in post. He even went to Parliament and lied misled MPs when he said Gary Walker, former head of United Lincolnshire NHS Trust, had not identified himself as a whistleblower when he raised patient safety concerns to Nicholson in a 2009 letter to him.

David Cameron refuses to place the spotlight on Andy Burham who was the Labour Health Secretary at the time of the deaths. The culture of “I don’t do blame” has infested itself so much in the public sector and Government that when elderly people are starved to death by NHS nurses, the response from our Prime Minister is akin to “nothing to see here, move along”.

Well, I for one will never bury my head in the sand and will make sure people realise what a dangerous institution the NHS is: it holds a mirror up to the failed Communist regimes of the fallen Soviet Union and is just as flawed. The quicker we break it up and bring in a Netherlands-style health service the better for everyone’s health.

This veneration of the NHS by politicians, hoodwinked members of the public, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury must stop.

UPDATE: A fellow blogger in the Ipswich Spy parish alerted me to this sad story published last year in the Morning Ipswich Star where a blind pensioner from Felixstowe was handed the wrong prescription at a branch of Boots pharmacy. The man subsequently died.

*Harmoni, in Suffolk, took over the out-of-hours GP service from Take Care Now who had the contract removed from them after one of their doctors, who could not speak English, killed a patient in 2008 with a Morphine overdose. Par for the course in the NHS. Just add that fatality on top of the thousands killed at Stafford Hospital (some through starvation) hey, Sir David Nicholson? It’s incredible one gets a knighthood in the UK for slaughtering the patients in your care!