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The Tories can't avoid the blame for hospitals being put in special measures

The emergency action is a damning indictment of the pressures the government has created on the frontline.

The emergency action is a damning indictment of the pressures the government has created on the frontline.
Jeremy Hunt waits to deliver a speech at the Evelina London Children's Hospital on July 5, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Today, Jeremy Hunt shockingly tried to claim credit for the number of hospitals placed in special measures. He spoke as if these problems on the frontline were nothing to do with him – and that his role was simply to call them out. He placed 11 trusts in special measures last year following a review by Sir Bruce Keogh and five more have gone into special measures since.

The truth is that this Tory-led government has caused huge problems in the NHS. And the fact that so many hospitals have had to be placed in special measures is a damning indictment of the pressures the government has created on the frontline – and for which they have never apologised.

In Spring 2013, three years after David Cameron began his vast, top-down reorganisation of the NHS, Bruce Keogh inspected 14 hospital trusts and found worrying care problems. Some of these hospitals had been under pressure for some time. But far from getting to grips with the problems, the Tory-led government made matters far, far worse.

First, they turned the NHS upside down with an unnecessary reorganisation that sucked £3bn out of patient care. When David Cameron was forcing his health Bill through, NHS leaders warned the reorganisation was putting services at risk. But he refused to listen and ploughed on regardless.

Second, in the first three years of the Parliament, Cameron presided over the loss of thousands of NHS nurses. Unsurprisingly, the Keogh Review said nursing shortages were a key cause of the problems they found – yet the government has never taken responsibility for this. The fact that the NHS has now had to scramble to recruit more nurses is an admission the Government made a monumental error letting numbers fall so far in the first place. Equally worrying are the cuts we have seen to nurse training places – 10,000 fewer trained over the last four years – which is only storing up problems for the future.

Astonishingly, Jeremy Hunt talked about the need for transparency in the NHS. But the government still refuses to comply with the Information Commissioner’s ruling that they publish the risk assessment for their NHS reorganisation – despite the fact that Robert Francis, who led the inquiry into Mid-Staffordshire hospital trust, called for these assessments to be made public. Were the government warned their reorganisation would lead to the haemorrhaging of nurses and widespread care problems? Were they warned their reorganisation would hit A&E? While they continue to cover things up, I guess we’ll never know.

The vast majority of NHS staff now say that David Cameron’s reorganisation has harmed patient care. Incredibly, just 3 per cent say it has improved patient care. A recent survey for the Nursing Times found the majority of nurses saying their ward was dangerously understaffed, and more nurses said that safety has worse over the last year than better. The sad truth is that by turning the NHS upside down with a damaging reorganisation and causing a crisis in A&E, the government has made care problems more likely, not less.

I’m proud it was the last Labour government that introduced independent regulation of healthcare, and we support tough inspections of hospitals. That shouldn’t stop us asking how we can prevent care problems occurring in the first place, though – and scrutinising the damage this government has done to patient care.