Cack-handed PR gambit can’t mask critical failings in our hospitals

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Reading the east Kent hospitals trust’s press release, you might have been forgiven for thinking that the latest inspection report from the Care Quality should be a cause for celebration.

The headline bragged “CQC recognises examples of outstanding practice at East Kent Hospitals”, before conceding “there’s more work to do”.

A boast followed by the greatest understatement of the year.

The examples of “outstanding practice” the trust chooses to cite are a mobile phone app for information, praise for the team which takes blood samples and the fact that drawers in the emergency are colour coded for ease of access to equipment.

Nicely labelled drawers or not languishing for 12 hours in A&E? Tough one. I know which one I’d prefer from a hospital service.

For the trust, however, to grandstand on the back of such minor fripperies when there are critical shortcomings in the most important areas of its work is an insult to the intelligence of east Kent hospital users and the wider tax-paying public.

The truth is that such transparent third rate PR chicanery corrodes public faith in the services which resort it.

Emergency waiting times, adequate machinery, cleanliness, enough staff: these are the things people care about – not the colour of a drawer.

And if you want the real success story of the CQC report, then that lies in the praise the inspectors heaped on staff who provide the face-to-face support for hospital users.

There were significant improvements in the maternity service while staff across the trust should be congratulated for the emotional support they provide.

Here we find a story familiar to the British public services: dedicated and caring frontline employees doing a decent job while management presides over manifest failures and shortcomings.

The CQC acknowledges that the trust is making improvements, but can’t find the evidence to award a higher rating than its last inspection when it was found to be requiring improvement.

This is because the trust has still not addressed deficiencies in key areas. This is not something any amount of cack-handed PR can camouflage.

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