DH 'tried to cover up hospital failure'
The Department of Health asked the Healthcare Commission to delay putting a hospital into special measures until after the 2005 general election, the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry has heard.
Giving evidence about the role of the Healthcare Commission, its former chair Sir Ian Kennedy told the inquiry he accepted the NHS could never be entirely free from political interference. He said he had got the sense the regulator’s predecessor, the Commission for Health Improvement, had not “endeared itself to the politicians” through displays of independence.
However, when asked by the DH to delay putting Northwick Park Hospital - part of North West London Hospitals Trust - into special measures Sir Ian said he would be “delighted” if the permanent secretary was prepared to “handle Jeremy Paxman [on Newsnight] if a woman dies”. The decision was not delayed.
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Sir Ian, who is now chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, was made chair designate of the HCC in January 2003 and helped shape the organisation. However he told the inquiry he had been “disappointed” that the core standards which the HCC based their annual health check inspection regime on had been handed down like “stone tablets” from the DH and attempts to change them or add to them were turned down.
Sir Ian was also asked about the relationship between the HCC and Monitor, the foundation trust regulator, which was set up at the same time. He said the relationship and roles of the two had been unclear and revealed he had not been made aware of the development of the foundation trust policy or Monitor until a late stage.
He said, during the process of establishment, there “suddenly appeared another enterprise called foundation trusts and another regulatory body called Monitor”.
“I had no inkling this was even in the pipeline. To say I was surprised is an understatement. This was, in some quarters of the then [Labour] government, politically going to be troublesome, so for as long as possible it was kept in house and under wraps.” Sir Ian said he believed not even other parts of the DH knew about the policy.
Asked by inquiry counsel Tom Kark if it had been “clear in your mind” the difference between Monitor and the HCC’s roles, Sir Ian said “not really.”
Sir Ian was also asked why he thought clinical and medical staff had not refused to continue working under the conditions in Mid Staffs.
He said: “I do think there is in the NHS, particularly among nurses, there is something of the Dunkirk spirit of, ‘We’ll deliver come what may. If there aren’t any bandages we’ll make our own.’
“It is quite wrong but it’s taken advantage of by others who know that nurses in particular and some doctors become guerrilla fighters against a system which doesn’t provide what they need.”
Sir Ian chaired a public inquiry into serious failures in paediatric heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, in the late 1990s, for which the chair of the Mid Staffs inquiry Robert Francis acted as counsel.
The inquiry continues.