The Care Quality Commission’s labelling of 41 of the 161 English NHS trusts as ‘high risk’ is a pretty terrifying figure. It also demonstrates the scale of problems facing the NHS, which include greater demand on resources than ever before, what appears to be low levels of staff morale, declining staff numbers and significant financial constraints.
Inevitably the reporting of these figures has and will be somewhat sensationalised. We should also not forget that the CQC is itself attempting to rebuild its reputation after months of less than stellar headlines about its management culture and the quality of its inspections. The CQC has clearly tightened up its inspection regime and this will have had some impact on the figures it is reporting. But that doesn’t mean the scale of problems facing NHS trust is being exaggerated – more likely that trusts are being judged on a consistent and valid yardstick for the first time.
The CQC’s latest findings cannot be dismissed as an over-reaction to its own reputational issues, and we should accept that there are a significant number of trusts in England at which standards are currently falling below what we should expect. That such a report has even been published is symptomatic of how the rose-tinted glasses through which the public has viewed the NHS for so long have not been so much taken off as ground into the floor.
The two major political parties have fallen over themselves to lay blame for trusts’ failings at each other’s feet. Jeremy Hunt has claimed that the CQC’s findings show problems “stretching back over many years” and that a lack of transparency in the NHS under Labour has led to failings in patient care. For its part, Labour’s Jamie Reed has blamed the Government’s costly reorganisation of the NHS and a lack of funding for frontline services.
Both probably have a point – but the bigger issue here is that a problem has been clearly identified and needs addressing. The reputation of the NHS has suffered in recent years and public confidence in it won’t be helped by this report from an admittedly more rigorous CQC. It will also not be helped if solutions to these problems are drowned out by political grandstanding over who is to blame.