Breaking Glass

The Stafford Disaster

If you didn’t hear about the social and medical catastrophe that occurred at Stafford Hospital, in the English Midlands—a disaster that claimed some 1,200 lives—then you must have been following the U.S. news media.  The Stafford experience should be a nightmarish wake-up call for Americans, and a crushingly definitive argument in the nation’s debate over healthcare.

In 2008, an inquiry began at Stafford following horrendous charges of the abuse and neglect of patients.  Victims were routinely left without food and water, becoming so desperate that some drank from flower vases.  Dressings were not changed, nor wastes cleaned up.  Patients regularly received the wrong medication, or none at all.  I quote the Daily Telegraph’s Laura Donnelly: “[O]n the wards, patients—most of them elderly—were left in agony and screaming for pain relief, as their loved ones desperately begged for help.”  If we compare the actual number of patient deaths at Stafford with what might have been expected in a properly functioning facility, we find a surplus of around 1,200 over several years.  Nor was this a case of overwhelmed staff struggling heroically against crushing pressures.  Doctors and, especially, nurses demonstrated an horrific callousness to the situations they were witnessing—or perpetrating.

After a lightning-fast emergency...

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