Campaigner Julie Bailey has fought to improve NHS patient care since her mother’s death in Mid Staffs hospital. She tells Summons about her experiences and her hopes for the future of the health service
JULIE Bailey will never forget the last two months of her mother Bella’s life in Mid Staffs Hospital. It was September 2007 and the 86-year-old had been admitted for a routine hernia operation. Concerned at the poor care provided at that time, Julie slept next to her mother’s hospital bed and watched as her condition slowly deteriorated until she eventually passed away eight weeks later.
Since then Julie, who runs a café in Stafford, has been a vocal critic of the care her mother received, describing how she witnessed the “shocking neglect” of both her mother and other vulnerable patients there. The experience prompted her to set up the group Cure The NHS in December 2007, whose campaigning helped secure a public inquiry (led by Robert Francis QC) into the failings at Mid Staffs and the wider NHS.
Cure The NHS continues to offer support to people concerned about the care they received in the NHS, campaigning for greater accountability within the health service as well as for the implementation of the Francis report’s recommendations. Julie has also written a book on her experiences, From Ward to Whitehall.
What prompted you to set up Cure The NHS?
What I saw in the eight weeks I spent with my mum Bella in hospital will live with me forever. After she died I tried to raise the alarm about what was happening at the hospital but nobody listened. I knew I had to find other people who had had similar experiences as nobody believed what I was saying. I put a letter in our local newspaper with a plea for others to get in touch, and they did.
How has your life changed since your mother’s death?
My life has changed considerably as not a day goes by where I don’t listen to a relative who has lost a loved one in the NHS, unnecessarily. My life has been put on hold and I think it will be until I feel that others won’t suffer in the way my mum and other vulnerable people did.
What do you think has gone wrong with NHS care?
The NHS has lost its way and we have forgotten what it is for, the patient. I think it has become so big and unwieldy and we haven’t had leaders to manage the changes. Sadly I have found that the NHS is full of managers but has very few leaders. It has been subject to a command and control style management from the top and this has filtered all the way down to the frontline.
We have lost sight of what is important and instead of looking at the needs of the patient and their experience we have instead focused on outcomes and what’s measurable. Whatever NHS boards have wanted to see to satisfy themselves, this has become the focus of the frontline, their priority.
Can doctors or nurses be held accountable for poor care if rotas are under-staffed?
The ward where my mother was treated was starved of staff. I would say that 40 per cent of them ran around like headless chickens trying to help the patients as best they could while the other 60 per cent shouldn’t have been in a nursing role at all. Some today should be in prison instead. But even if you had doubled the staff it wouldn’t have made much difference. It is the calibre of staff, their skills and behaviours that matters.
What is your opinion on the NHS’ treatment of whistleblowers?
Frontline staff have a responsibility to report that they are unable to do their job safely; it is in their code of conduct. Doctors and nurses have a legal duty to speak out and champion the patient. Sadly what we have found is that those who do are mistreated by other staff who would rather keep the boards happy than their patients safe. Often when people do try to speak out they are bullied or more covert tactics are used, like ostracising or making the individual feel as if they are the only ones who cannot cope with the demands.
I also believe the unions, both medical and nursing, have failed the frontline. At Mid Staffs the unions knew the wards were desperately short of staff and should have done more to tackle this. They should also be more proactive in reminding staff of their duty to act as a patient’s advocate and to speak out if patient safety is compromised.
What do you think should be done to improve patient care?
I believe we need to turn the NHS the right way up, with the frontline staff taking the lead and the managers offering advice. At the moment, the Government decides the NHS priorities and that is wrong. The frontline knows what is best for their patients and they should be allowed to lead.
To achieve that, the NHS first needs a leader that inspires and galvanises the workforce. We need a quality and safety system, standardised operating procedures and zero harm and “right first time” as our guiding philosophy.
I’m not sure if some health professionals have lost their compassion with patients. I think the problem could be in the recruitment of nurses and doctors. We heard at the Mid Staffs public inquiry that the priority was to fill the university places and not the values of those we were recruiting. We should start to recruit for the values we want the NHS to uphold and not what it has become.
What is your reaction to the Francis report?
I was pleased with the Francis report as it addressed the key areas but disappointed that it had so many recommendations. I would have preferred there to be around 20 manageable and achievable recommendations. I am disappointed too that he blames the system, which I suspect will be used for other failings and already is. Without accountability I believe the NHS will allow a small pool of failure to swim which will continue to blight the NHS.
From Ward to Whitehall by Julie Bailey is published in the UK by Cure The NHS. Copies are available from www.curethenhs.co.uk for £7.99 +P&P
Interview by Joanne Curran, associate editor of Summons
Next issue: how is the NHS addressing the key concerns raised in the Francis report?