The failings of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust between 2005 and 2009 and the subsequent public enquiry by Robert Francis QC, is a real wake up call for politicians and people working within the National Health Service. We are, rightly, incredibly proud of our NHS in Britain and the appalling levels of care and high mortality rates in Stafford Hospital are thankfully very rare and are something that should not and must not happen again.
The fact that the scandal occurred in the English NHS should not be cause for complacency here in Wales. We are not immune from the same problems occurring here and lessons must be learnt from the final Francis report and its 290 recommendations.
This month, I have twice visited Neville Hall Hospital in Abergavenny with a family member, once to the accident and emergency unit and the other to the emergency admissions department. On both occasions, I was very concerned by what I saw.
I saw staff working incredibly hard but struggling to cope with demand, in some cases they were still working several hours after their shifts should have ended. Patients were waiting for incredibly long periods of time to be seen and, in the end, patients were leaving the hospital against medical advice because there were simply no beds for them. I was in the waiting room whilst what should have been a private conversation between a doctor and a relative took place because there was simply nowhere else for them to go. The staff were doing all they could possibly do but they were under significant pressure.
Since I reported what happened on my visit, I have had several people contact me describing similar experiences. We are not yet at crisis point but action needs to be taken and it needs to be taken quickly to ensure we do not find ourselves in a similar situation.
The Francis report recommendations are too many to fit into this article, or even this newspaper, but I will pick out some that I feel are important to avoid the appalling and harrowing conditions we saw in Stafford Hospital.
We should protect whistleblowers. If people feel something is going wrong, they should be free to come forward without fear. A duty of candour should be enshrined in law for health professionals. Mistakes happen and when they do lessons should be learnt to prevent future incidents occuring. We also need to closely monitor key indicators like the Mortality Index so that problems are flagged up before they reach crisis point.
The Welsh Labour Government and Carwyn Jones have described the NHS in Wales as “on the brink of collapse” and that is why they say we need the enormous changes that are being proposed across Welsh LHBs. Quite how we have got to the brink of collapse considering Labour has been in charge of the NHS here for 13 years is for them to answer. The Welsh Liberal Democrats and I will continue to monitor these proposals closely to ensure that the people of Wales are safe and that they provide the best possible care for patients.