Failings In The Healthcare System: Who Is Really To Blame?

In recent years, the UK healthcare system has faced a number of incidents, scandals and issues. Escalation in waiting times and the inquiry into Staffordshire hospitals are just two examples that have caused headlines and have come under intense public scrutiny.

Professor Sir Brian Jarman co-founder of the health statistics and research service Doctor Foster, told the Guardian that in 2010 he sent Andy Burnham, the then health secretary “a list of hospitals with higher-than-average death rates in 2010, but no action was taken.”

Jarman claims that over 20, 000 lives could have been saved if “government ministers and the NHS had paid attention to warnings about high death rates in hospitals.”

This number far exceeds the 400 to 1200 deaths published in the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry final report. The report which faced high profile coverage in the media, left patients, families and the wider public looking for someone to blame and left them calling for radical healthcare reform measures to prevent the tragedies from happening again.

Transparency is one possible solution but a look at recent issues experienced in UK healthcare services, their causes and most importantly, the strategies taken to ensure they won’t happen again.

  • Waiting Times

Waiting times are always a contentious point in the medical service industries. Accident and emergency (A&E) waiting times have reached the highest levels in a decade after rising for the fifth year in a row.

In the period between October and December 2012, over 230,000 patients were found to have waited in excess of four hours for emergency medical treatment.

In some of the most extreme cases, patients were left waiting on trolleys as staff tried to find space amidst the severely limited hospital beds.

While this is only 4.3% of patients, these waiting times on the whole reflect some of the most common issues facing the NHS healthcare system. Limited staff and a lack of funding are two widespread issues that consistently impair the industry and its ability to function.

Worringly the situation looks set to get increasingly worse in the coming years with a Randstad Care Agency Survey indicating a shortfall of 62,000 nursing staff by 2050, due to an ageing population and rising obesity rates.

Worryingly, the current statistics are still within the government’s decreed acceptable services. A reconsideration of acceptable rates and speed of A&E service could help to deliver more funding and consequently open up more jobs in healthcare. 

  • Deaths At Stafford Hospitals

The number of deaths in the Stafford hospitals has sparked widespread controversy after some of these incidences were attributed to neglect. The five trust hospitals, all with higher-than-expected death rates, have been linked to a number of catastrophic failings that put their patients at risk.

The NHS inquiry spanned over a year and thoroughly documented the failings and the necessary areas for improvement.

In terms of where to point the finger of blame, Robert Francis QC, Chairman of the Inquiry wrote that no single person or department was responsible for the unnecessary deaths, which accounted for 1,200 patients.

A list of 290 different recommendations has been put forward by the inquiry to improve matters in the region’s hospitals. One of his recommendations was that there needs to be “openness, transparency and candour throughout the system.”

This is very similar to what Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said at the 2013 Healthcare Innovation Expo 2013 earlier this month.

“We need a culture of openness and transparency if we are going to stop another Mid Staffs from happening.”

  • Winterbourne Care Homes Incident

Another event in 2012 that sparked the country’s attention was the arrest of 11 care home workers. A secret film caught Winterbourne View care home staff subjecting patients to a culture of violence and cruelty.

Six staff were jailed for abusing vulnerable residents and five others were given suspended sentences. The secret footage revealed residents being slapped, soaked in water, trapped under chairs and taunted and sworn at. The case revealed a systematic and disturbing disparity in power, as staff demonstrated little care or empathy toward patients with severe learning difficulties.

The shocking private hospital event showcased the fact that the UK’s widespread healthcare issues aren’t restricted to the NHS and the public system but that all areas of the system need to be addressed.

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