Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, was under pressure on Sunday night over a catalogue of fatal blunders at hospitals across England.
The health service’s Medical Director, Sir Bruce Keogh, will detail serious failings in 14 NHS trusts tomorrow.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, will announce that trusts with continuing problems will be placed in “special measures” with hit-squads sent in to implement improvement plans. The Conservatives seized on the figures to argue that Labour, which was in power until three years ago, allowed serious problems to develop. Mr Burnham was Health Secretary from June 2009 until May 2010.
The figures show eight of the 14 trusts had higher-than-average death rates between 2005 and 2010. The worst-performing, Basildon and Thurrock in Essex, was given a good rating by NHS regulators, the Healthcare Commission and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), between 2005 and 2009.
The findings will raise doubts over the last Labour government’s claim that the scandal at Stafford Hospital was an isolated incident and did not reflect wider faults in the NHS.
Sir Brian Jarman, of Imperial College London, who worked on the Keogh review, accused Labour ministers of presiding over a “denial machine” and ignoring his findings about high mortality rates. “We felt we were banging against a locked door. They were denying our data even though there was no real reason. At the time there was pressure from Downing Street and pressure from ministers,” he said. “The [Labour] government was in the position of providing the health service and monitoring it. It was a conflict of interest – ministers have an electoral interest in getting out good news.”
Mr Burnham said he was “fed up” of being accused of covering up hospital failings during the last government and said the NHS had “gone downhill” under the Coalition.
He said he acted over Stafford – and left warnings in place on five hospitals. “Problems at these hospitals have got worse. That is the reality,” he said.
Mr Burnham said the Francis report into the failings at Stafford found no evidence of wrongdoing by ministers and added: “If there’s evidence... I will answer it. But I have accounted for my actions... and I will continue to do so.”
A Tory source said the CQC set up by Labour was now known to have been a “regulator whose views shouldn’t have been trusted” and a “disaster waiting to happen”. He added: “What is shocking is how Labour ministers, including Andy Burnham and even Gordon Brown himself, appear to have been leaning heavily on officials to keep problems covered up.”
David Cameron commissioned the Keogh report in February after the Francis inquiry into the Stafford scandal exposed major lapses in care of patients and in hospital regulation.
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