Dear Professor Baker,

It seems like only yesterday that another Professor – Stephen Hawking – felt compelled to raise concerns in the press about the current state of the NHS. If you recall, Hawking’s critique of Jeremy Hunt’s predilection for statistical cherry-picking prompted an extraordinary barrage of tweets from the Health Secretary, admonishing one of the world’s greatest scientists for his cluelessness on the matter of, well, scientific methodology.

Professor Baker, your interestingly-timed intervention today has prompted quite the barrage of headlines itself, hasn’t it? An NHS ‘unfit for the 21st century’, indeed? And that picture you paint of A&E departments’ disgraceful ‘unsafe practices’ – our ‘wholly unsatisfactory’ arrangements that ‘endanger patients, as well as denying them basic privacy and dignity’. It’s almost as if you think we’re somehow choosing to ‘keep piling patients into corridors where staff cannot even see them’ or to force patients to queue, hour upon hour, in ambulances outside log-jammed hospitals. Actually, you go further, don’t you? You directly blame us for the hellish conditions that patients and staff alike endured last winter, condemning our culture of ‘learned helplessness’ that leaves our patients abandoned, unmonitored, without even essentials like oxygen.

There’s just so much blame in your interview, isn’t there? Previous NHS staff, current NHS staff, ‘archaic’ NHS systems, bad managers, bad previous governments. Blimey. No-one, it seems, is immune from your blame. Except, that is, the one glaring exception. The one cherry you chose not to pick, so to speak.

Nowhere in your remarkable blame riff is there any mention of the funding climate in which frontline staff and managers alike are struggling – fighting tooth and nail, frankly – to keep on delivering a halfway decent standard of care for our patients. We are trying so unbelievably hard, Professor Baker. But we already have one of the lowest numbers of beds per capita of any country in Europe, as well as being one of the most under-doctored. And, of course, we have a government, currently, who has chosen to subject the NHS to the most draconian and sustained funding squeeze in NHS history. Right now, the NHS in my region is having to cut even more beds, hundreds of them. It simply cannot afford to do otherwise – like every acute Trust in the country. That’s not really going to help the patients stranded, bedless, in corridors about which you care so deeply, is it?

Of course NHS reform is needed. Of course we need greater community capacity and better integration between hospitals and primary care. But in omitting to mention the political context to your argument – the political choice to provide the NHS with inadequate resources safely to manage not only winter, but all-year-round rising demand – you come across, I’m afraid, as an oddly partisan chief inspector of hospitals. Why the omission, Professor Baker? Why blame the NHS and its dog, yet fall so shy and silent when it comes to acknowledging the political choices to underfund and understaff the NHS into a skeleton service in place of excellence?

Do you really think your admonishing letter to Trust CEOs, telling them to jolly well stop leaving patients in corridors, is going to do anything other than incense us all? Where else would you suggest we put them? Toilets? Broom cupboards? I believe Jeremy Hunt’s new toilet is rather lavish – perhaps we could squeeze one or two in there?

Anyone would think you were giving the Department of Health comms team a helping hand in the pre-emptive deflection of blame for the looming winter crisis away from the government and onto anyone else but Theresa and Jeremy. I thought nothing could surpass for sheer stupidity last week’s news that NHS staff were forced by NHS bosses to chant “we can do it” as an approach to managing ED winter pressures. But you, Professor Baker, have managed to out-Brent even that David Brent of a spectacle: instead of empty exhortation, you have apparently plumped for his more bullying style of management, through the medium of tetchy, head-masterly letters saying ‘you can and will pull your socks up – or else’. In all those years you’ve worked in the NHS since 1972, have you never noticed that nothing good ever comes from a caning?

Let me remind you what blame culture achieves, Professor Baker. First, it demoralises and undermines frontline staff. Then, it makes us feel hopeless and impotent. We stop trying to speak out, we become cowed and silent. And now, all that bullying and blame has managed to make the NHS less safe, not more, by allowing a culture to flourish in which no-one feels they can change anything, let alone risk speaking out for the sake of our patients.

In your interview, you’ve just achieved all of the above. I’m a hard-working NHS hospital doctor, and you’ve made me feel angry, demoralised, hopeless and incredulous – all in the same moment. That is not leadership, Professor Baker, and it is certainly not conducive to high standards of patient care. It serves only to present you to the public and NHS staff alike as a hospital chief inspector who seems to care more about playing a political game than the vital matter of patient safety.

How incredibly, bitterly disappointing.

Incidentally, please consider this letter my raising of safety concerns on behalf of NHS patients nationwide, as my duty of candour demands me to do.

Dr Rachel Clarke

Oxford

Posted in NHS
Posted by:doctoroxford

40 replies on “An open letter to Prof Ted Baker, following his attack on the NHS

    1. Well done! The attack is part of the ideological war, in addition to the financial and organisational war that this and previous governments are waging to hide their goal of privatisation. They want things to get so bad people with the money to pay will demand change. People with out the financial resources to pay will die, as they do in America. It’s heartless!!! BUT we have to fight back. Join your local “keep the NHS public ” group and join the fight back.

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      1. Thanks for this. There is a second area not considered by Baker, the utter failure of the inspection regime to contribute to raising standards of care. Yes, the NHS has its faults but Baker has opted to be part of the problem when he should be part of the solution.

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  1. Well said. We all share your anger and utter disbelief that members of our profession are in bed with the mendacious politicians under whose watch the NHS is being destroyed. I sincerely hope that the disillusionment will not turn to despair and you continue to to call these people to account.

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  2. Excellent. We must fight back against the creeping demolition of the NHS. Beech ing destroyed our rail system in the 60s and Tories are trying to do the same to our health system

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  3. No truer words ever said ….I have been a nurse since qualifying in 1979 and never have I felt so in despair at how front line staff are being blamed for all of the problems in the NHS. Retirement is beckoning me even quicker !

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  4. As a midwife that left the NHS I am horrified and scared for my childrens future care, for my grandchildrens health and care. I just hope they stay healthy because this government seems to care only about people who can afford to pay for their health care, and that is a sad indictment of where they will take the NHS. Let me warn them – even in private hospitals you need staff, staff who care, who are interested and if those staff have family members who are dying for want of care, do those who pay think that those who care for them will truely care?

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  5. Brilliant response Rachel and I totally support every word and share your anger and despair at the treatment of NHS by this Governnent and endorsed by this puppet

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  6. Brilliant response Rachel and I totally support every word and share your anger and despair at the treatment of NHS by this Governnent and endorsed by this puppet

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  7. Well said. Person’s like this who does not understand or do not want to understand put the blame on hard working NHS staff.

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  8. It’s also time that Trust Chief Execs grew a pair and directly challenged the blatant propaganda that this Downing St stooge vomits out, Instead of quietly complaining about being forced to chant meaningless slogans, tell the press the truth – how your budget is insufficient to meet your demands, causing failure and crisis – the punishment for which is to have your budget reduced! By keeping silent you are complicit.

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  9. I find the phrase”learned helplessness “ to be particularly pejorative.

    Interestingly, it is not the first time I have come across it in this context.

    I wonder is there a coordinated approach to this “blame and shame” culture. It is it simple plagiarism?

    Well done, Rachel. You speak on behalf of many – eloquent and to the point.

    The real shame is the epidemic of political deafness.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Useful letter. I agree with someone i showed this to the jeremy hunt toilet line is unamusing, unneccessary and lowers it all a little to a student politics style rant. Otherwise these are great points.

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    1. Why focus on those few words? Surely it is more helpful to look at the main thrust of the piece and consider what action can be taken before it is too late and more people suffer because of lack of funding.

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    2. The JH toilet line perfectly reasonably points-up the priorities of the current government. There is always money for ministers and their inappropriately lavish accommodation just as elbow room for tax cuts or subsidies to the DUP can always be found. Priorities, priorities.

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  11. Phil Lloyd. October 1st 2017

    Professor Baker has been with the NHS since 1972 …… really?
    This is far too long for anyone to be associated with such a body.
    If he is a typical example, the NHS needs to be urgently cleaned out of such entrenched people and replaced with some fresh, modern and forward looking talent.

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  12. I think the use of Jeremy’s new loo for additional bed space is a fantastic winter crisis policy – hopefully there’s an STP focus group already spending hours and hours of clinical time looking into it – fab article as usual

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  13. The obvious answer to inadequate healthcare funding is to do what the rest of the developed world does, which is not to rely solely on tax to fund the system, but to introduce co-payments and/or insurance.

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    1. For over 60 yrs the NHS has proudly stood for the most cost-effective approach to healthcare that there has ever been – to share costs between everybody knowing that everybody will have their needs at one time or another, which will be met without question. See the Commonwealth Fund reports and correct your misunderstanding.

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  14. Your points are well made and true. I wonder if we also need to start looking at different ways to raise money. Why don’t private providers have to pay an education tax for every NHS trained doctor and nurse they employ, this could go directly to off set the need to remove nurse’ bursary.

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