The Tories aren’t ruining the NHS – it’s all the temporary staff

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, January 2006, Francis Tyers

…that, at least, is the implicit message of Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, whose bashing of companies that provide reserve medical staff comes as the Tories announce sanctions to combat their allegedly unscrupulous behaviour.

But despite efforts to make it appear otherwise, this looks like little more than a Tory scapegoat for our crisis-stricken health service.

Recently my mother was being treated at King’s College Hospital, one of London’s largest, busiest and most prestigious teaching hospitals. Sadly her stay didn’t leave me proud of our healthcare system, or its nurses, specialists or doctors. Instead it left me wondering how, at even a supposedly decent hospital, things had been allowed to get this bad.

During my mother’s treatment a blood transfusion that should have taken less than six hours took twelve. She was served stale bread and told it was toast. Patients in adjacent beds were left for hours in soiled beds and gowns.

And – perhaps most incensing of all – after being transferred from A&E to a hospital ward she was left for over 24 hours without any treatment – no tests, no consultation, nothing. This for a woman in her late 60s admitted to care for suspected internal bleeding.

Back in April, a Unison report revealed that 65 percent of nurses believed patients were missing out on basic care because of chronic understaffing. Whilst this was true of my mother’s treatment, overwhelmingly the problems we experienced were due to a lack of communication between staff members.

This led to farces including medication prescribed by surgical staff not being administered due to improper notes; doctors and the surgeons never being reachable if there were questions or complications; and alarmingly disparate analyses of tests.

Now, I have no doubt that Simon Stephens and the health secretary Jeremy Hunt are right, and that locums and agency staff are costing the NHS a preposterous amount. But despite the Andrew Marr Show and BBC Breakfast appearances, as well as numerous articles in last week’s newspapers, no one should be fooled: Temp agencies have become the latest sleight-of-hand, intended to distract you from the dire straits the Tories have put the NHS in.

As Peter Carter, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, put it to The Independent: “The health service needs to focus on the root cause of this problem, not just the symptoms. A lack of investment in nurse training and cuts to nurse numbers mean that trusts now have no choice but to pay over the odds for agency staff and recruiting overseas.”

Based on my experience, I have to agree: The NHS isn’t just short of money, it’s short of structure and training.

Before the election, many voters were sceptical when it came to the relationship between the Tories and the NHS. But despite the headlines running up to election day, the result would suggest that the electorate largely either trust the Tories with the NHS or have confidence that they won’t do it harm – largely due to the party’s £8bn funding pledge.

But regardless of spin, the Tories’ NHS restructure has left it needing far more than funds. What it needs is a fix to the problems created by Tory mismanagement.

At the end of last year, a Tory in the cabinet told The Times: “We’ve made three mistakes that I regret, the first being restructuring the NHS.” If they don’t change their course now, it won’t be the last Tory wound to the health service.

Header Image – Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, January 2006 by Francis Tyers

J. C. Servante

J. C. Servante

Freelance writer, reviewer and blogger. Politically speculative. Can be found at

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