Undoubtedly, boardrooms across the land will be full of cathartic conversations, heads shaken in disbelief that a train wreck of this magnitude could be allowed to happen. Some leaders will solemnly declare “we can do better”.
Public outcry is stoked by a media aware that the industry has been caught putting profit first, with economic drivers prevailing over quality and service.
Given our position as members of the NHS, you will of course assume that the issue in question is Mid Staffs. But step back and out of the NHS for a moment – the actual topic being described is the horsemeat scandal.
In parts of Europe, horsemeat is an everyday product, just as relatives providing basic care is a routine hospital activity. Families eating together at a patient’s bedside, sharing, supporting and caring, are the norm in Eastern Europe, just as horse is on the shelf in most French supermarkets.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is no excuse for neglect and no apology deep enough for the loss of life and suffering caused by neglect. I am simply pointing out that expectations, cultural norms and values set the context for any judgement.
In the UK, we do not expect to be given horse when we ask for beef – we do not expect to be given neglect when we ask for care.
In both cases, businesses under pressure to perform financially have compromised on quality in an effort to reduce costs. At some point along the way, individuals lost contact with the very nature of their key business. Many individuals in Findus, Tesco and Asda were totally unaware of the flawed nature of their products. Others, who may have known of the issue, may have felt it acceptable and, in economic terms, sensible to work in such a way.
The real learning emerging from comparing these two very public standards is that legislation is not the answer.
Food standards have some very strict legislation, an army of inspectors, a host of quality metrics and legal powers enough to make your eyes water. There can’t be an establishment across the country that hasn’t had visits, inspections, ratings and awards, all of which are backed up by inspectors with statutory powers.
Every supermarket and store will have been displaying a rating of their food and hygiene standards – more scores won’t fix the NHS.
Our only hope rests in the hearts of every staff member, that they can find the passion to care for people, to do the right thing first time, every time, caring for patients as they would wish to be cared for.
The challenge for NHS boards will be to appease the system and deal with inevitable knee jerk regulation while concentrating on the real prize – developing a culture in which great care delivers financial frugality as a by product, and not one in which financial frugality wastes the chance to care.
Chris Mimnagh is a GP and Director of Strategy and Innovation at Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust