Alan Johnson claims that:
"To suggest that in this particular incident, this reflects what's happening in the NHS across the country is absolutely wrong," he said. "There are nurses and clinicians across the country who have dealt with the targets... but kept the highest safety standards."
The Healthcare Commission's report rather contradicts Mr Johnson:
"The investigation into the outbreaks at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust has thrown up a number of similarities with the findings of our previous investigation into outbreaks of C. difficile at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, part of Buckinghamshire Hospitals NHS Trust. Both trusts had undergone difficult mergers, were preoccupied with finances, and had a demanding agenda for reconfiguration and private finance initiative (PFI), all of which consumed much management time and effort. They also had poor environments, with many dormitory style wards and few single rooms which could be used for isolating patients with infections.
In both we observed unacceptable examples of contamination and unhygienic practice. Additionally, the impact of financial pressures was to reduce further already low numbers of nurses and to put a cap on the use of nurses from agencies and nursing banks. There was unrelenting pressure to reduce the number of beds.
Thus, both trusts had very high occupancy levels, could not manage with fewer beds, and so had to open 'escalation' beds, often at short notice and in unsuitable environments, without proper support services and equipment in place and, by definition, without permanent staff. The effect of all this was to compromise seriously the control of infection and the quality of clinical care. While it should be noted that improvements have subsequently been made at Stoke Mandeville, it seems unlikely that these similarities are coincidental. We are concerned that where trusts are struggling with a number of problems that consume senior managers' time, and are under severe pressure to meet targets relating to finance and access, concern for infection control may be undermined."
There are clearly major problems here that go right up the chain of command, all the way to central government. Undoubtedly the local management were grossly negligent and must be held accountable for their actions or lack of them, however to deny that the government's policies are also to blame for this systematic problem is nothing but dishonest denial.
As James Le Fanu puts it in today's Telegraph, the malignant over interference of successive governments has resulted in hospitals being run from Whitehall and not running themselves. Whether public or private, the fact that hospitals have no freedom whatsoever to run themselves is the real problem here:
"The Health Service does not need ever more new-fangled schemes of "provider competition" and "practice based commissioning". What it needs is to return to the system when hospitals ran themselves."