Yet another unfounded attack on the NHS by the right-wing press

It's absurd to the blame the NHS for such a sensitive, unresolved case.

It’s absurd to the blame the NHS for such a sensitive, unresolved case

The headline ’15 babies poisoned by NHS drips’ dominates the front page of the Daily Telegraph today. The article reveals that contaminated IV drips have caused septicaemia in 15 patients, including the tragic death of a newborn baby.

Every reader will feel great sympathy with anyone affected by this harrowing case, and safeguards are currently in place to protect others from immediate harm.

However, perhaps most surprising is the Daily Telegraph’s eagerness to gain cheap political capital out of such a sensitive and heart-breaking accident.

’15 babies poisoned by NHS drips’, reads the headline. Not content with leading their front page with the news of an infant’s death, the newspaper curiously felt the need to emphasise that these were ‘NHS drips’.

Yet on closer investigation, it seems that the error was likely a fault of the manufacturer of the medicines, rather than the National Health Service; the infection was discovered at six different hospitals, up to 100 miles apart.

When considering this, it seems wholly unlikely that the actions of NHS staff caused these cases. More likely the disaster was due to a faulty batch of the drips, produced by the company ITH Pharma Limited.

Whilst it’d be unfair to make any accusations without further evidence, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) have contacted company staff and a formal investigation is likely to be launched into the suppliers.

Why then, is it acceptable for the Telegraph to so hastily blame ‘NHS drips’ for the tragedy?

Yes, the drips were used in an NHS hospital, but a faulty batch of privately manufactured medicines could’ve caused infection at any institution, NHS or otherwise. This case constitutes yet another unfounded attack by the media on the National Health Service.

Of course, considering that the overwhelming majority of neonatal intensive care is performed by the NHS, it is unsurprising that a contaminated batch of infant IV drips would come to light in NHS hospitals. For the sake of clarity, a brief internet search failed to find a single private neonatal intensive care unit in the UK.

The maternal unit of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital for instance, happy to charge patients £6,900 for a standard birth delivery, is quick to inform readers that babies requiring intensive care “will be treated as NHS patients, and therefore will not be subject to further charges.”

And this is what is so insidious about private healthcare and its comparison with the NHS in the media. Private healthcare functions on the principle of cherry-picking: providing care for treatments which are ‘profitable,’ whilst neglecting patients with more complex, expensive complications.

Indeed, only two months ago, it was revealed that the private healthcare firm Bupa was bribing their patients to use NHS services in order to maximise the company’s profit. Yet this scandal received only limited attention in our partisan media.

It is these criticisms that the press consistently fail to recognise when cramming their media output with stories engineered to constantly berate and lambaste the National Health Service.

Whether analysing the media’s revelling at the news of NHS doctors making a mistake, demonising treatment options or disproportionately reporting on the NHS’ failures, it is no surprise that public attitudes towards the NHS are suffering, despite it being one of the most efficient healthcare models in the world.

Worse still, a media which so readily criticises such a widely-cherished public institution also sets the tone of our political debate.

Hence, it is unsurprising that Jeremy Hunt blames doctors and nurses for healthcare scandals instead of acknowledging the effects of unrealistic and dangerous government targets, and that he is able to gain powers which permit him to close any NHS hospital without consultation.

The media’s constant berating and condemnation of the NHS clearly has real and serious effects that foster mistrust, suspicion and ultimately weaken the National Health Service.

Moreover, in times of tragic news such as that released today, it is more important than ever for our media to maintain its commitment to impartiality and accuracy.

This is why the Telegraph’s actions are wholly irresponsible. It is deplorable and absurd to the blame the NHS for such a sensitive, unresolved case, in order to propagate a belief that our health service is failing.

To hijack the tragic death of an infant for political gain is fundamentally unethical – on this occasion, the media’s obsession with criticising the NHS really has gone too far.

George Gillett is a medical student, writer and blogger. Read his blog here, and follow him on Twitter

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18 Responses to “Yet another unfounded attack on the NHS by the right-wing press”

  1. Cole

    What do you expect? The Telegraph have been running a jihad against the NHS for years. It’s part of the intense long term right wing campaign to discredit and destroy the NHS.

  2. Sparky

    Imagine a state-run airline where 12,000 people a year were dying in plane crashes. There would be outrage, demands for the entire fleet to be grounded, the whole airline to scrapped and a full scale investigation into the shocking lack of care of passengers.

    And yet 12,000 is the number of people that needlessly die each year in the NHS through poor care. These aren’t my figures. These come from the chairman of the investigation into the Mid-Staffordshire hospital scandal, Robert Francis. Interestingly, Mr Francis’s son is a trainee doctor. And Robert Francis is now president of the Patients Association. So it’s reasonable to assume he knows what he’s talking about.

    This is nothing to do with ‘discrediting’ the NHS. But if anything does need discrediting, it’s the socialist dogma that insists that the NHS is wonderfully successful at treating patients and a glorious achievement, completely beyond reproach, That just isn’t borne out by the facts.

  3. Cole

    It’s amusing how right wingers keep producing numbers of people ‘killed’ by the NHS, as if other healthcare systems didn’t also have similar problems. Another right winger on LFF insisted it was 40,000 a year, although he’d of course twisted the facts. The latest cretinous line is to use the aircraft analogy.

    We all know the NHS isn’t perfect – no health system is – but denouncing it as ‘socialist’ when international surveys suggest it’s average to good is absurd., but just what you’d expect. And it’s pretty good value for money.

    Still, we all know what the NHS’ evil opponents are up to. They’re either fanatical ideologues, or hoping to make a ton of money from privatising it. The British people will not let this happen.

  4. Fuseblues

    It would depend up whether your hypothetical airline was an exception, of if the practice of air travel was inherently that unsafe. For example, a comparable country where healthcare is entirely privately run – the USA – shows that in 2013 the Journal of Patient Safety (cited by Forbes 23/9/13) suggests 440,000 per year die from “preventable medical errors” in that country. That means an equivalent of approximately twice the preventable mortality rate per patient.

    The point being that you cannot make a judgement on the efficacy of a system with abstract figures unless you make a comparison to an alternative system – or at least a baseline of what is “normal”.

  5. Guest

    well said

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