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It’s time we faced the truth about the NHS

Martha Mills: a tragic death. Merope Mills

Like any parent who has heard Merope Mills talk about the negligent doctors responsible for her daughter Martha’s death, says Janice Turner in The Times, “I’ve wondered what I’d have done in her place”. If my 13-year-old had sepsis, and the blood was “seeping” out of her stomach tubes, would I furiously confront the imperious consultants refusing to move her to ICU? Scream at the junior doctor who failed to perform any overnight checks? Probably not. Like Mills, I’d say please, thank you, sorry for causing bother. That’s what I did during “a decade of NHS adventures with elderly parents”. I didn’t ask why no one had given my mother water for five hours after I found her “deranged with dehydration”, or criticise the “slovenly and unkind” nurses in a rehab unit. “These were low-paid workers; I am not, so I said nothing.”

The “unquestioning goodwill” so many of us have for the NHS is largely justified. But medics are not all “life-saving heroes”: as in any profession, some are “substandard, callow and heartless”. Incredibly, the NHS in England pays out £8.2bn a year in clinical negligence compensation for maternity care – “more than double the total £3.2bn maternity and neonatal budget”. Nottingham University Hospitals Trust is being investigated over the deaths or injuries of 1,700 babies, “a whole secondary school of children”. The system has to change – Mills wants a “Martha’s Rule”, which would give patients the right to a second opinion. But for now, her advice to worried parents is simple: “If things seem to be going wrong, shout the ward down.”