14th September 2012 

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Dr Deaf

News and Comment from Roy Lilley

It was a few years ago; he was comical and had a way of looking at life that only Scousers have. It was a chance meeting. We were both on holiday with our families; neither of us enjoyed baking-in-the-sun, so we took refuge in the beach bar.

His repertoire of self-deprecating jokes was inexhaustible. My cheeks ached with laughing. Inexplicably the conversation turned to Hillsborough. The football disaster. What did I think about it? In truth, I didn't have a view; drunken louts, dreadful loss of life but what could you expect? My new friend turned sombre. He told me about his Hillsborough loss. He told me about the police opening the gates, the struggle to escape the crush, the delays in the emergency services response and the subsequent cover up.

I was sorry for his bereavement, but I didn't believe him. Why would the police tell lies? Anyway, a cover-up would be impossible because the frontline coppers would speak out and there were too many people involved. I avoided the Scouser for the rest of the holiday.  I didn't listen.  I was deaf. 

Years later, on a tiny Greek island, by chance I was recognised by a nurse, on holiday with her husband. She was from the Midlands and was about to retire from a lifetime of nursing. She was reflective and interesting. She was ending her working days using up her leave, then back on the wards, to say good-bye and that was that. She was proud of her profession but thoroughly disillusioned. She told me tales of staff shortages, and a level of quality she was ashamed of. I thought this can't be right. She hinted at something more sinister; the relentless pressure from management, the insouciance of the doctors. She was glad to be leaving Mid-Staff's.....

I was sorry her career was ending on such a low but I didn't believe her. I put it down to 'it wasn't like it in my day'. How could it be true? How could such poor quality be accepted by nurses and ignored by management? Anyway the relatives would have said something. A cover-up would be impossible, there were too many people involved. I kept a polite distance for the rest of the holiday.  I didn't listen.  I was deaf.

On October 15th the Francis Enquiry into the goings-on at Mid-Staffs will be published. It will be the NHS's equivalent of the Hillsborough Report. I can guess it will say: terrible things happened; everyone looked the other way; shame, career and self-preservation combined to produce a collective cover-up. Organisations paid to ensure our safety ignored the front-line where catastrophes can be created or avoided. There is an institutional fault line in the NHS, a board-room cynicism that corrodes our brand. No one is in charge.  They didn't want to listen.  They were deaf.

Policemen, like nurses, occupy a special place in society. It is to them we turn in extremis, when we are at our lowest. When our lives are naked and our emotions stripped bare. It is inconceivable that the front-line would cover-up and deceive us about a disaster. There were 164 police witness statements changed at Hillsborough, they were stifled by collusion in the senior ranks of people who couldn't afford to listen.  At Mid-Staff's scores of relatives, patients and staff complained; they were stifled by collusion in the senior ranks of people who couldn't afford to listen. Collectively they had too much to lose.

I didn't listen, I should have. We all should. Here is a warning from the Royal College of Physicians about the breakdown of services in hospitals. Ignore the narrative, read the facts, they speak for themselves.

The useless response from the DH came via junior-minister Dr Dan Poulter. He is a former junior doctor, as far as I can see not a member of a Royal College? He said; "It is completely wrong to suggest that the NHS cannot cope - the NHS only uses approximately 85% of the beds it has available, and more and more patients are being treated out of hospital, in the community or at home".  Yeh, right.  

Stupidly, carelessly, ignorantly, wilfully (I have no idea which) he is counting the furniture not people and delayed discharges. He is not listening.

Poulter claims he is a 'working doctor'. It seems to me he owes less to St Luke and more to St Francis de Sales. Dr Deaf.

Have a good weekend. 


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