Is this the road Queensland hospitals are heading down?

“People must always come before numbers. Statistics, benchmarks and action plans are tools not ends in themselves. They should not come before patients and their experiences.”

That was the concluding message from the Chairman of an independent inquiry into care provided by Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust in the UK.

The inquiry was commissioned following constant complaints of neglect and substandard care at the hospital. Inquiry Chairman, Robert Francis QC concluded that “Patients were routinely neglected by a Trust that was preoccupied with cost cutting, targets and processes and which lost sight of its fundamental responsibility to provide safe care.” Cost cutting, ward restructuring and a reduction of staff particularly nurses lead to appalling neglect of basic patient care, the inquiry found.

The hospital needed to make a 10 million pound (just under $15 million) saving and did this through cutting staff levels which were already deemed to be insufficient. Sound familiar? In the case of the UK hospital, this move came in 2006/2007 with the findings of the inquiry released recently, some six years later. In relation to our own situation in Queensland, the LNP Government has only implemented these cuts now so will we be facing a similar situation at our major hospitals in the near future?

The situation I am referring to is where the most basic elements of care were neglected. Calls for help to use the bathroom ignored, patients left lying in soiled sheeting, sitting on commodes for hours, often feeling ashamed and afraid. The evidence gathered by the inquiry also found patients were left unwashed, at times for up to a month. Staff failed to make basic observations and pain relief was provided late or in some cases not at all. Patients were too often discharged before it was appropriate, only to be re-admitted shortly afterwards. The standards of hygiene were at times awful, with families forced to remove used bandages and dressings from public areas and clean toilets themselves for fear of catching infections.

The inquiry found the Board's focus on financial savings was a major factor leading it to reconfigure its wards in an experimental and untested scheme, while continuing to ignore the concerns of staff. The shocking similarity to our own situation here in Queensland cannot be ignored. With 4,000 health cuts in just one year alone, doctors, nurses and all other health professionals have consistently voiced their concerns for patient safety and deteriorating levels of care in the future.

It took almost seven years for an inquiry into the shocking and harrowing situation at this particular UK hospital. The inquiry concluded that cost cutting, staff reductions and more regard to balancing the books than caring for patients were the root cause of these horrific circumstances. Does this mean the writing is on the wall for Queensland? Campbell Newman’s campaign of destruction forcing health boards to take a scalpel to their budgets certainly has grave similarities to this case in the NHS. Maybe the Queensland Government should read Mr Francis’ report and listen to his warning that “People must always come before numbers...... This is what must be remembered by all those who design and implement policy for the NHS.” Yes, Mr Newman maybe you should look at this report instead of a few years down the line being the reason behind a similar one into Queensland hospitals.

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