All prospective medical students applying for a place at English universities will have to undergo a face to face interview to ascertain whether their values align with those of the NHS, as of next year. The plans are part of a new Values Based Recruitment strategy (VBR), which is being introduced as a response to the Stafford Hospital scandal in which over 1,000 people were found to have “needlessly died”.
Yet Sir David Nicholson, who headed up the Trust which oversaw Stafford Hospital, is a key champion of the new health service values, which includes a strong commitment to equality.
Health Education England, which has responsibility for education and training for the NHS, launched the new Strategy earlier this week, proclaiming “VBR is an approach which attracts and recruits students, trainees and employees on the basis that their individual values and behaviours align with the values of the NHS Constitution.”
According to the NHS Constitution, those values include a belief that the NHS “has a wider social duty to promote equality through the services it provides” and remains “free of charge”, financed “through national taxation”.
The framework ensures that, by March 2015, all students will be recruited for their commitment to the aims of the NHS constitution, and all NHS employers will also recruit according to the values of the NHS. “HEIs [Higher Education Institutions] will be expected to adhere to these requirements which will ensure that all students are recruited in a single, standardised way,” reads a statement on HHE’s website. “Through our partnership with NHS Employers, NHS employing organisations will also be encouraged to adjust their existing recruitment processes to incorporate these core requirements to mirror the recruitment of students.”
The new strategy has come about in part because of the Stafford Hospital scandal, in which between 400 and 1200 ‘excess deaths’ were identified as having taken place in the mid-2000s. The Healthcare Commission was moved to investigate the hospital in 2008 after becoming suspicious over “apparently high mortality rates in patients admitted as emergencies”, according to their subsequent report.
During the six month in-depth investigation they found a series of failings, including misplaced focus on bureaucracy leading to appalling conditions. According to the report, “The trust established a group to look into mortality, but put much of its effort into attempting to establish whether the high rate was a consequence of poor recording of clinical information.”
The hospital was found to be understaffed, and staff under-skilled. A typical passage notes “Not all the nursing staff had the correct skills to observe and care for the variety of patients admitted as surgical and medical emergencies. On the bays with cardiac monitors, the nurses had not been trained to read the monitors.”
Following that investigation, a further thirteen hospital trusts across England were found to have similar problems which caused as many as 13,000 “needless deaths”. It is not known how many more people died unnecessarily in trusts not investigated.
The man in charge of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority, which oversaw the work of Stafford Hospital, at the time of the scandal was Sir David Nicholson. The Healthcare Commission laid the blame for the scandal partly at his feet, finding that managers within the trust were too focused on finances and on achieving targets. Yet Nicholson was promoted to the role of Chief Executive of the NHS in 2006, where he formulated the ‘Nicholson Challenge’ on public health spending. Under his leadership, the NHS was instructed to find £20 billion in savings, a target that many within the service claim is impossible to reach without impacting front line services.
In that role he chaired the 2013 NHS Values Summit, at which delegates came together to discuss how to achieve “continuous improvement and innovation to tackle health inequalities and advance equality” within the NHS. Included on the bill was “Molly Case, student nurse, writer and spoken word artist”, who took to the stage just before Nicholson and his colleague Dr Paula Vasco-Knight, who together launched EDS2: a “refreshed Equality Delivery System”.
Dr Vasco-Knight was found during an employment tribunal to have victimised two whistle-blowers after they raised concerns about her nepotism in hiring her daughter’s boyfriend for a job at Torbay Hospital. She subsequently resigned and moved to the north west. In 2013, she was appointed a CBE in the New Year Honours List for services to the NHS, according to the BBC.
Other interactive workshops at the summit included discussions on “a representative and supported workforce,” and “Regulation of NHS organisations and alignment with EDS2.”
In his forward to the Summit’s program, Nicholson wrote “The NHS belongs to the people and everyone has a right to high quality services. It is therefore essential that tackling health inequalities and promoting equality is central to what we are trying to achieve in the NHS, and that the values of the NHS Constitution are lived out daily through the commitment, care and compassion of our staff.
“NHS England has produced its business plan, Putting Patients First. Central to this three year plan is a commitment to promote equality across the NHS and reduce health inequalities in access to, and outcomes from, healthcare services. Narrowing health inequalities will be highly challenging and we will need to deepen our understanding of the role that the NHS can play across the breadth of its remit.”
Julie Bailey, who founded the Cure our NHS campaign following the death of her mother at Stafford Hospital in 2007 told Breitbart London “One of the problems with the NHS is it continually hears from itself and that makes changing the culture much more difficult. Until we start recruiting front line staff for the values we want the NHS to be and not what it has become we will continue to fail patients.”