One of the many problems that Andy Burnham has encountered this week is that he has had to spend more time defending his record in the last Labour government than scrutinising the current government’s changes to the health service. He has performed the first task in a rather emotional manner, and the Conservatives may well feel that politically this week has been rather successful. But now they’re going after him on the policy side of things too, perhaps to underline how preoccupied Burnham is with his own reputation.
Jeremy Hunt has this afternoon written a letter to Ed Miliband, seen exclusively by Coffee House, which demands to know whether Labour supports the government’s new hospital inspection regime. The letter says:
In light of the serious failings exposed in the last Government’s hospital inspection and ratings system, and in the interests of securing a swift turnaround, I would be grateful if you could clarify the Labour party’s position on some critical issues relating to hospital standards.
As you know, we have appointed a new Chief Inspector of Hospitals to overhaul the inspection process, introducing longer on-site inspections and unannounced visits, larger inspection teams made up of doctors, nurses and patients, and rigorous Ofsted-style ratings. Your Health spokesman Andy Burnham appears to oppose these plans. He refused to support them in the House of Commons this week, and last month issued a public ‘note of caution’ on the Government’s plans to introduce more rigorous NHS inspections, describing them as ‘heavy-handed regulation’ to the NHS Confederation conference.
There is also evidence that he resisted similar attempts to make the inspection system more robust during his time as Secretary of State. Baroness Young, former Chairman of the CQC, told the Francis Inquiry that Andy Burnham blocked her attempts to change the previous flawed regulation system, known as the annual health check:
“The annual health check was … flawed in so many ways that I went and saw the Secretary of State and said I wasn’t prepared to carry on doing it in this way. It was nonsense … the data was old, there was too much reliance on self-assessment. She alleged that ‘common sense went out of the window on occasions’ and ‘it ran the risk of being very inaccurate.’ Critically, she testified that ‘having argued that with the Secretary of State [Andy Burnham], I was told firmly that we weren’t permitted to change it.’ In his evidence to the Francis Inquiry, Andy Burnham acknowledges that this was the case: ‘I recall having a discussion with her about it, and it was the view of the Department at the time that they didn’t want more change.’
There is absolutely no reason why a new policy on hospital inspections cannot be introduced on a bipartisan basis as I know we both share a commitment to ensuring there can never be a repeat of what happened at Mid Staffs. However I am very concerned that Labour still appears to be opposing a policy on hospital inspections that has widespread support and will drive up standards for patients. As such, I would be grateful if you would clarify Labour’s position on the new Chief Inspector of Hospitals as soon as possible.