Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Mid-Staffs scandal: The Tories must beware focusing solely on Andy Burnham

MPs were debating accountability in the NHS following the Mid-Staffs scandal today, and as part of that, the argument about who – if anyone – should be held responsible continues to rumble on. Charlotte Leslie and many of her Tory colleagues want to see Sir David Nicholson gone (and The Telegraph‘s Robert Winnett reports that senior government figures are considering a route by which he can exit). But the focus of Jeremy Hunt and other Conservatives is on Andy Burnham instead. Today Hunt said:

‘[Nicholson] does bear some responsibility. He said himself ‘we lost our focus’, he has apologised and has been held to account by this House and others. But I don’t believe that he bears total responsibility, or indeed personal responsibility for what happened.’

Hunt said Nicholson had ‘consistently warned’ of the dangers of hitting targets without improving care, and added that ‘others do bear a far more direct responsibility’, including the board of the Trust. But he also rejected the argument advanced by Andy Burnham that ‘there were cases where the underlying culture of the NHS didn’t change’ in spite of ‘well-meaning’ policy changes. Hunt said that ‘Labour did make three huge policy mistakes and he must accept that it is not simply a question of government policy not being implemented’. Hunt also had a little moan about the way Labour likes to focus on the motives of the current government in reforming the NHS rather than the detail.

The shift from ‘there should be no scapegoats’ to ‘Labour has questions to answer’ happened last week. The Prime Minister’s PPS, Sam Gyimah, included a question about Labour and the Mid Staffs scandal on the list of suggestions for PMQs that he sent to Tory MPs.

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