Chris Turner on life at Stafford Hospital after the media storm

So it’s the end of week two since the Healthcare Commission report into Stafford Hospital became public knowledge, and the toll is showing. It shows on the faces of staff who feel battered, it shows on the faces of managers who look beleaguered, and most importantly it shows on the faces of our patients who don’t know just what they are entering into as they are wheeled into the department. The national press have (mostly) returned to their London bases, having left a trail of ever more hyperbolic headlines and a community who feel let down by an organisation that is meant to care for them in their neediest hours. And I am the clinical lead in emergency medicine.

I was appointed in December last year, fresh faced and keen to get stuck into the job. Having been a trainee in the department I was (and continue to be) secure in the knowledge that it was staffed by good people who gave their best at all times (there just were not enough of them). I knew we had some problems, but what department does not I asked myself? I even knew about the HCC report as many of the staff had been interviewed (myself included). Although pretty reading was never on the agenda I think it is fair to say that the tone was a surprise. The ensuing media scrimmage was incredibly stressful, both to the department and to me personally. Fortunately I now appear to have run out of media adrenaline. The local MP and the Secretary of State for Health were met today with not even a flutter of anxiety. Small mercies.

Of course with the headlines and media interest come opportunities, and we undoubtedly need to take those. I have lost count of the number of senior government people I have met with in the last couple of weeks, some clearly wanting to know more, others clearly going through the motions of “being seen”. Oddly some of them who raised my hackles when on TV actually seemed genuine when I met them, quite disarming when you are set to go off like a coiled spring.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, it is time to reassure our patients and build up trust with the community we serve. It sounds like, and is, a political statement, but it has a sound basis. At the moment when I talk to the relatives of the critically ill patients I can see the concern in their eyes. I know that they are worrying about both their relatives and the hospital. In those painful conversations about how far we treat and resus status I have to somehow reassure them that we shall do our very best. I’m still searching for the best way to do this. Clearly there is no one size fits all strategy here. What I do try to convey is that I treat every patient as I would a member of my family. I hope this reassures them at least a little.

In case I might get delusions of grandeur, however, reality does tend to supervene. I tried to call my daughter this morning to wish her all the best in her netball tournament but missed her and got her mum instead. “You may have important things to do today” she said, “But I’ve got a netball match at 6.20 tonight and are you going to be here? It’s important”.

I live in interesting times

Chris Turner is the clinical lead for emergency medicine at Stafford Hospital. He went to Edinburgh University and took the scenic route to consultanthood via both Australia and psychiatry. Children, dogs, and guitars make him happy.