Maybe he should have a crack at the NHS
Jarman is the co-founder of the Dr Foster company, which provides comparative information on health and social care services. Among other things it produces statistics on hospital mortality rates (Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratios - HSMR) that flag up hospitals with significantly higher levels of mortality than the average. Jarman says their stats identified the problem at mid-Staffs long before any official action was taken, and similar issues at other hospitals now finally being reviewed by the government. He says:
“Those hospitals which had persistently high death rates over all those years and have now been listed for investigation should have been investigated earlier, because it’s quite possible we would have had fewer deaths in those hospitals... [there] must be at least tens of thousands of avoidable deaths in those hospitals alone, when we should have been going in and we should have been looking at them”.In just the 14 hospital trusts* now being reviewed by the government, he reckons excess deaths number "a bit over 20,000".
This is bad enough. But even worse is the fact that even when Jarman flagged up his concerns directly to Labour Health Secretary Andy Burnham, nothing was done. In March 2010 he sent Burnham a list of hospitals with significantly high death rates and nothing happened. Nothing.
It's not hard to see why. Because March 2010 was just two months before the last election. No way would Burnham - or any other Health Secretary - have wanted that blowing up during the campaign. With politicians at the controls, patient safety must always come second to political imperatives.
Not that Burnham ignored Jarman outright. According to Burnham's own account, he referred the matter to the Care Quality Commission, who "did not find that there was anything to worry them". Further, Jarman's HSMR data was "new" and "the government could not put it's full weight behind it".
Hmm. Here we have an officer of the state, warned that his state owned industry is going seriously off the rails, and relying on his own state commission and own state statistics to check it out. Does that sound like a recipe for customer safety?
Now, nobody's saying Burnham's a bad man. True, he's a politician, but just like every other Health Secretary in living memory he found it impossible to manage our huge NHS to deliver as he (and his customers) would have wished. He found himself as one against one-and-a-half million staff, staff who know far more about their business than he could ever hope to find out. And if his managers choose to tell him there's nothing to worry about, how can he possibly hope to find out what's actually going on down at ward level? As always, information is power.
Which is why the current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is now making it a criminal offence to fiddle NHS stats. In future, anyone cooking the figures for hospital mortality, or waiting lists, or anything else in the NHS, will face a jail sentence and their employing trusts will be fined millions. Hunt says:
“This is about a transparent, honest and accountable NHS. Patients and the public should be confident that they can trust information about how hospitals are performing, and a culture of honesty and accuracy will help those organisations drive up standards of care."A new culture, yes, that's what we need all right. But can criminal sanctions deliver it? Out East, they have plenty of criminal sanctions to support the right culture - and we're talking sanctions that are a tad more bracing than three months in Ford Open Prison. Yet their new management team inherits a state behemoth with all the NHS problems plus a few more besides.
"President Xi Jinping told the nearly 3,000 delegates gathered at Beijing’s hulking Great Hall of the People that his government would “resolutely reject formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance, and resolutely fight against corruption and other misconduct in all manifestations.” Shortly afterward, freshly appointed Premier Li Keqiang said the central government would slash its payroll and freeze spending on overseas trips, guest houses, office buildings and new vehicles in response to falling revenues. “The central government will lead by example and all local governments must follow suit.”Formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism, extravagance, corruption, and other misconduct in all manifestations. Well, maybe the NHS hasn't quite ticked all of those boxes yet, but on my count it's done at least four out of six.
Good luck to the reformers, both out East and here in the NHS. But meaningful reform in big organisations whose customers have no choice is next to impossible.
*Just so you know, here are the 14 hospital trusts now under review for having significantly higher than average death rates:
- Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust
- Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust
- The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust
- East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
- George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust
- Medway NHS Foundation Trust
- North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust
- Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust