Just when you begin to think British Tory leader David Cameron is gaining political maturity and also gaining some real traction against the dreadful, now barely functioning British Labour government, his gift for ineptitude comes good again.
It has been a major story in the British press that Lord Mancroft, a Tory member of the House of Lords, has scarified nursing standards at a British public hospital where he was a patient.
Speaking in a Lords debate on patient care, he said: “It is a miracle that I am still alive. The wards were filthy. Underneath the bed next to me was a piece of dirty cotton wool, and there it remained for seven days. The ward was never cleaned. The tables, the beds and the bathrooms were not cleaned.”
He said a splash of blood in the bathroom was there for the week he was in the hospital.
“I was extremely infectious at that time and no precautions were taken with me at all. The staff were furious when my wife wanted my bed cleaned when it clearly needed cleaning.”
Worse still, he said, was the attitude of the nurses, which he described as “an accurate reflection of many young women in Britain today.”
He said: “The nurses who looked after me — not all of them, we should never generalize and there were one or two wonderful ones — were mostly grubby, with dirty fingernails and hair. They were slipshod, lazy, drunken and promiscuous.
“How do I know? If you are a patient in a bed and being nursed from either side, the nurses talk across you as if you are not there.
“I know exactly what they got up to the night before. I know how much they drank and what they were planning to do the next night, and it was pretty horrifying.”
He said he heard one nurse say: “I really shouldn’t be here because I had so much to drink last night and I feel like I’m going to be sick.” The other asked: “Did you **** so-and-so?” and the first nurse said: “No, but I think I’m going to.”
He said: “I’m not attacking nurses, but when you are dealing with people at their lowest, then professionalism should be higher.” He said he believed he was alive only because his wife “kidnapped” him and had him transferred to a London hospital, where standards were much better.
What did Cameron do about what seemed prima facie both a public scandal and, for the Tories, a political gift? Promise to investigate? Demand that the government investigate? Support his ally? Perhaps even send Lord Mancroft a private note suggesting that he cool it until investigations had been made?
No. He responded with a furious public tirade, not against the hospital or the government which was responsible for it, but against Lord Mancroft.
At the Welsh Conservative conference Mr. Cameron said Lord Mancroft had been told in “no uncertain terms” that his views do not represent the party. Mr. Cameron said he asked the Tory leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, to let Lord Mancroft know how angry he was.
“He should think more carefully before opening his mouth,” Mr. Cameron said. “My experience of the NHS is 100% completely different. I was very cross about it.
“I completely disagree with what he said. I think it doesn’t reflect the incredibly hard work that nurses do and I have as much experience of the NHS as probably anyone in my party.”
The Labour government was of course more than happy to attack Lord Mancroft also. Health minister Ann Keen said: “I am appalled at his comments and I’m sure the rest of the British public is too. The entire country holds nurses in the highest regard. People will want to know what action David Cameron is taking on this matter or if David Cameron shares his views.”
I AM IN NO POSITION to say whether Lord Mancroft’s accusations are true or not. But I know there is almost nothing that shifts one’s view of life so radically as being hospitalized: the world dwindles down to your bed and the kindness, gentleness, friendliness, cleanliness and professionalism or otherwise of the nurses suddenly becomes about the most important thing in the universe. I have been hospitalized on two occasions, once in a public and once in a private hospital, and both times the nurses were wonderful. I only hope I expressed my gratitude to them adequately on discharge. However, I can imagine how terrible bad nurses can be. And so, I think, can anyone else who has ever been a hospital patient imagine it. And ex-hospital patients are voters.
It has already been established in recent months that filthy British hospitals have been the cause of many deaths. The Daily Telegraph wrote last year:
Now it is 2007, and we learn that nurses in the hospitals run by the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells National Health Service trust told patients suffering from diarrhea to “go in their beds.” Between 2004 and 2006, 90 patients died from Clostridium difficile, and the disease was a factor in the death of a further 241.
Were it not for bad nursing, bad medical attention and bad administration, none of these patients need have died. Indeed, they would not have contracted C. difficile at all unless they had gone into hospital. So, after 150 years’ advance of education, technology, prosperity and science, we have lost what Florence Nightingale taught [about cleanliness].
Surely the Leader of the Opposition might think that 90 preventable deaths in the hospitals of one area alone were at least a hint that all was not well in the Government’s administration?
It was reported in the British Daily Mail on January 1 that the National Health Service would spell out patients’ rights in a new “contract.” This, it was said, was likely to cover “the right to be treated in clean hospitals.” What does it say about British hospitals if such a “right” actually needs to be stated? Or that at the present time it apparently does not exist?
Further, given the old adage that there are no bad troops, only bad officers, Lord Mancroft’s allegations are not an attack on the nurses in one hospital but on hospital administration and supervision.
And why does Cameron apparently instantly assume that Lord Mancroft, a mature and successful businessman of 50, with a substantial record of public service — he has chaired the Addiction Recovery Foundation since 1989 and has been chairman of the Drug and Alcohol Foundation since 1993 and is vice-chairman of the Countryside Alliance — and a Conservative Party political colleague, is a liar? And a liar about something that he has no obvious motive to lie about? For that is the thrust of Cameron’s reported statement. Further, it is noticeable that Lord Mancroft’s allegations, as distinct from the generalized grumbling of a disgruntled and difficult patient, deal with specific facts, such as the cotton wool and the bloodstain.
Why could Cameron not have said something like: “I don’t believe Lord Mancroft’s experience was typical and does not accord with my own, but the allegations must be investigated properly”? This would hardly slander the nursing profession as a whole and would please the public, as well as having the advantage of being the right thing to do.
IF LORD MANCROFT IS TELLING the truth, what he has exposed is a public outrage that demands urgent action — and not, of course, for Lord Mancroft’s sake alone: he could afford to go to a better hospital. Millions can’t.
Possibly Cameron is afraid of angering nurses, or some nurses (there are nurses in my most immediate family and I know many others well, and I know that they would be the first to demand any such scandals, if true, be instantly exposed and ruthlessly dealt with). But he is also running the risk of angering hospital patients — a considerably larger demographic. Since the story broke, the British press has received hundreds of letters supporting Lord Mancroft’s story. Looking at the matter in a purely political light the Tories still have to find about 150 seats at the next election if they are to govern in their own right. They need all the ammunition against the government that they can get.
Cameron seems to have dealt with news of what may be both a public scandal that needs urgent action and a political opportunity by shooting the messenger. Somehow I can’t imagine a Churchill or a Thatcher behaving this way.
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