Few, who follow closely the trials and tribulations of the NHS, will forget the scandal that surrounded the Mid Staffs NHS Foundation Trust in the dying days of the former Labour government. Beset by chasing targets, the trust lost sight of the true nature of what it was supposed to do and forgot to look after patients. What unfolded was tragedy of stunning magnitude that stunned a nation.
As it turned out, it was not just Mid Staffs that was in trouble. There were warnings by various senior people within the NHS that this target chasing priority was causing problems elsewhere and the problem was becoming endemic. It turned out that these issues were, in fact, known by the senior management of the NHS. Three reports commissioned for the 60th anniversary of the NHS a decade ago, but hidden until freedom of information requests revealed they referred to a culture of fear and compliance, of hitting targets but missing the point, and a culture of inadequate regulation and inspection.
The scandal prompted not one but two reports by the QC Robert Francis and these were followed up by an enquiry from Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the national medical director of NHS England at the time. These enquiries and reports all found serious failings and one key figure in all this was Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of NHS England throughout this period. With higher than expected death rates in several hospitals under Nicholson’s tenure as chief executive, he was (and still is) a target for anger from the families of victims.
Why does this matter now? Because Sir David Nicholson has been appointed the new chair of the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust, the trust that runs our three acute hospitals here in Worcestershire, including Kidderminster Hospital.
It would be foolish to condemn a man to perpetual blame for something that happened in the past. Blocking him from any senior NHS job would not respond to natural justice. Indeed, the fact that he was deeply involved in the NHS through an appalling period may make him an ideal candidate for us in Worcestershire – after all, learning from mistakes is a good way to learn.
But appointing such a controversial figure needs explanation and that is why I have called for an urgent meeting with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to explain why this appointment has been made. This decision needs to be justified.