NHS storm 'rife for another Mid Staffs scandal'
A top QC and former NHS watchdog has warned the NHS could be on the brink of another Mid Staffs crisis unless urgent action is taken.
Sir Robert Francis, who chaired the inquiry into failings at the Stafford Hospital, said the conditions that pre-empted the catastrophe were visible in the “virtual storm” currently surrounding the NHS.
He said better safeguards exist today, but warned that the service cannot go on “running extremely hot” without the risk of something “going badly wrong”.
The BBC revealed this week that the number of people waiting longer than they should for routine operations has soared by 163% in four years.
It also found nine of out ten hospitals had too many patients on wards to be safe over winter and record numbers waited more than the target maximum of four hours in A&E.
The revelations come as NHS trusts struggle under financial difficulties and spiral deeper into the red.
“We’ve got a virtual storm of financial pressures, increased demand, difficulties finding staffing and pressure on the service to continue delivering,” Sir Robert told the Andrew Marr Show this morning.
“And some of that sounds quite familiar as those were the conditions pertaining at the time of Mid-Staffordshire.”
The scandal at the hospital - widely considered the touchstone of NHS crises - saw dire care conditions and high mortality rates.
Sir Robert continued: “The system is running extremely hot at the moment and it’s only working at all because of the superhuman efforts of the staff of the NHS.
“It can’t carry on like that indefinitely without something risking going badly wrong.”
He added: “There are better safeguards in place in terms of transparency and the rate of inspection so I would like to think that before we got to that stage that the problems would come to light.
“But I think the risks increase all the time that the pressure keeps on getting worse.”
Earlier this week he warned the health service faced an “existential crisis”, while an advisor to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the NHS was in a state of “war”.
Labour called on Theresa May to bring forward a new NHS funding package at the upcoming March Budget.
"Sir Robert Francis’ message is clear: the funding crisis in the NHS is putting patient care at risk," Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said.
"The NHS should be the safest and best in the world, but Sir Robert’s warning is that this cannot be achieved given the scale of the financial crisis now engulfing hospital departments up and down the country."
Meanwhile Mr Hunt admitted on Friday that some of the problems uncovered by the BBC were “completely unacceptable”.
The Cabinet minister said there was “no excuse” for major issues like lengthy waits in A&E and elderly patients languishing in hospital for months due to a lack of care home places.
He said the problems were “incredibly frustrating” and insisted the Government had a plan to help hospitals cope.