Can anyone think of a bigger scandal in any British public service than that revealed at Stafford Hospital? It is worse than Aberfan, or Bloody Sunday, or the King’s Cross fire, or Jimmy Savile, or even the abolition of grammar schools. Up to 1,200 people died unnecessarily, not because of one error, or a particular set of errors, but because of the way an entire hospital was run for several years.
There is plenty of evidence now emerging that comparable disasters have taken place at other hospitals, for similar reasons. Yet I searched last Saturday’s Guardian in vain for a single mention. Politicians are desperately closing the subject down. They have persuaded themselves that everyone loves the NHS, especially its nurses. In fact, hardly anyone who knows an old person going through the system is satisfied, and many are utterly disgusted. Soon there will be a popular revolt, and the politicians won’t know what to do.
But although old people are treated appallingly in the NHS, I cannot follow the argument made by the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, when he speaks of ‘the scandal of people having to sell their homes to pay for long-term care’. Why is it a scandal? There is a good chance that one will need long-term care in old age. Buying a house is, among other things, a form of saving, and long-term care is worth saving for. If you need such care, you probably will not need a house any more. If you have a spouse living in that house, the rules excuse you from having to sell it. Selling may be sad, but it is not scandalous.
What is scandalous is that the encouragements for saving are so few, and so more old people are throwing themselves upon the mercy of the state, which will never be able to look after them properly.