February 12: Standing up for NHS whistleblowers

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THE shocking report on NHS whistleblowers, and their shameful treatment, has even more resonance because it was produced by Sir Robert Francis QC – the man who also presided over the inquiry into the shameful mistreatment of patients in Mid Staffs.

His intrinsic knowledge of the National Health Service, and its shortcomings, is now forensic and it is to the credit of Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, that he has accepted the need for a “change of culture” so staff do not live in fear if they speak out and highlight malpractice.

As patient dignity goes to the core of the work of all NHS medical practitioners – the aforementioned Mr Hunt recently described the challenge as “good care versus poor care” – it is deeply disturbing that some staff have contemplated taking their own lives after being bullied by colleagues.

Not only is this a poor reflection on the moral fibre of those who behaved so reprehensibly, and whose conduct and ethics have clearly fuelled a toxic culture of “defend, delay and denial”, but it is also symptomatic of those well-remunerated hospital and healthcare bosses who have not done enough to demand the highest standards of treatment at all times.

In this regard, it makes eminent sense for the Government to legislate in order to protect the interests of whistleblowers – it is regrettable that it has come to this – and the appointment of “freedom to speak up guardians” at hospitals should provide some reassurance to staff until the necessary laws have been passed.

It’s also important that Mr Hunt accepts one of the more sensible and logical points made by his Labour opposite number Andy Burnham and extends these new protocols to care homes – staff in this sector merit the same safeguards as those being applied to hospitals. and that this is essential if standards are to be raised.

A false economy

Ambulance service’s use of taxis

THE fact that Yorkshire’s ambulance service has long-standing management problems is well known. However, the revelation that thousands of private hire taxis are being drafted in to drive seriously-ill patients to the region’s hospitals heaps fresh embarrassment on the organisation and heightens concern over the manner in which it is being run.

The Yorkshire Post has learned that more than 2,100 private hire taxis responded to 999 emergency calls in the county last year, as opposed to just 20 in 2013. This is not merely a statistical quirk, the scale of the rise is clearly indicative of a fundamental shift in policy.

And, as with any change in healthcare procedure, the most pertinent question of all is whether this approach is beneficial to patients.

The answer to that must surely be in the negative. It is not simply minor cases that are being ferried to hospital by taxi but some of the most serious. As such, this conscious decision poses a number of elementary questions.

If it is for reasons of expediency, in as much that responders believe a taxi would reach the patient sooner than an ambulance, then the question must be why that is the case. For a Trust anxious to improve its dismal record on response times, this course of action is hardly surprising but it is one that neither provides a level of service that patients should expect, nor offers value for money given the cost of this practice, which has to be borne by taxpayers. As such, it is the very definition of a false economy and one that must again raise pressing concerns about the region’s ambulance service. Today’s revelations are, after all, hardly likely to inspire confidence.

Here we go again

Will politicians ever act on A64?

ONE of the few certainties at election time is that calls to improve the notorious A64 are as predictable as the traffic tailbacks in high summer on the route from Leeds to Scarborough and the East Coast. This year’s election is already true to form after an all-party group of Yorkshire MPs singled out this road for “urgent improvements” in their Devolution for Prosperity manifesto.

It should not be like this. If similar congestion levels had been experienced in the South, the Government – irrespective of whether the Tories or Labour were at the wheel – would have acted by now. And while Scarborough MP Robert Goodwill, the current Transport Minister, has brought forward the first major investment for 38 years, namely roundabout improvements near York, the stop-start rate of progress is so slow – despite promises of action from David Cameron and his predecessors – that the A64 will be a future election issue unless more substantial plans are given the green light. There must be no more delays.