It is officially calculated that, between 2005 and 2009, up to 1,200 patients at Stafford Hospital died needlessly. Let us imagine that a comparable disaster occurred in any other institution or enterprise in this country. Suppose that hundreds of customers of the cold food counter at Sainsbury’s or Tesco died of food poisoning. Suppose that, at an army barracks, large comprehensive, steelworks, bank, hotel, university campus or holiday theme park, people died, and went on dying for years, at rates that hugely exceeded anything that could be attributed to the normal course of nature.
What would happen? In all cases – though more quickly in the private sector than in the public – the relevant management would be sacked. Indeed, the very idea of unnecessary deaths taking years to notice is almost inconceivable. Criminal charges would be brought. In many cases, the offending institution would close down.
But this is the National Health Service, and so we approach it with superstitious reverence, as if the fact that Stafford Hospital performed so many human sacrifices is so awe-inspiring that little can be done about it. For all its rhetoric of condemnation, this week’s report of the Mid Staffs inquiry by Robert Francis QC argues, in effect, that those in charge should stay in charge.