Observations Body Politic

How Cure the NHS became the true professionals at Mid Staffs

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f930 (Published 12 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f930
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist, London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}btinternet.com

But the future looks bleak for local scrutiny of health organisations

The public inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust has left few reputations undamaged. But amid the wreckage two emerge with credit: the group Cure the NHS (www.curethenhs.co.uk), set up by patients, relatives, and friends to draw attention to failings at Stafford Hospital, and a local journalist, Shaun Lintern, who gave them a public voice. The rest—boards, regulators, managers, and most doctors and nurses—failed in their professional duty, some more egregiously than others. In identifying failure it was the outsiders who proved to be the true professionals.

This is a sobering conclusion, because the past decade has seen a systematic failure to involve local people effectively in the NHS. Since the abolition of the community health councils in 2002 under Tony Blair’s government, each effort to replace them has proved feebler than the last. The councils were replaced firstly by patient and public involvement forums and then, in 2005, by local involvement networks (LINks). With the unconscious irony for which NHS publications are rightly celebrated, the document setting up LINks was entitled A Stronger Local Voice.

Now a new plan is afoot to replace LINks with Healthwatch, but with little evidence that any lessons have been learnt. The regulations tabled by the government to govern the running of Healthwatch at local level will prevent these bodies from doing anything that promotes or opposes …

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