To Slay The Slain

Apologies in advance for the literary references, particularly those unfamiliar with the material here; but the similarities were too profuse and profound to disregard and the themes all too contemporary. A summary of Antigone is here. 

Now, then, my son, take thought. A man may err;
But he is not insensate or foredoomed
To ruin, who, when he hath lapsed to evil,
Stands not inflexible, but heals the harm.
The obstinate man still earns the name of fool.
Urge not contention with the dead, nor stab
The fallen. What valour is ’t to slay the slain?
I have thought well of this, and say it with care;
And careful counsel, that brings gain withal,
Is precious to the understanding soul.

Antigone – Sophocles, lines 1022-1032,
Tr Lewis Campbell, written 1877, published 1883

The idiom ‘to slay the slain’ as used by Sophocles, was uttered by the blind prophet Tiresias counselling Creon, the new ruler of Thebes,  to change his path, this counsel proves to be wise. Recent events concerning the case bought by the HSE against Mid Staffs Foundation Trust following the tragic death of diabetic patient Gillian Astbury which raised some points which I believe resonate with this,  in pari materia.

Sentencing was postponed, 21/02/2014, probably due to the imminent dissolution of the Trust:

“Stephen Climbie, defending, told the court the trust had apologised to Ronald Street, Ms Astbury’s carer, and her family.

He described the case as “unique for a number of factors.”

“The first is the time it has been under the popular spotlight. The second is the cost associated with that matter, in terms of financial cost and morale and staffing levels.

“Thirdly is the fact they are the only foundation trust in administration. Fourth, none of those responsible in senior management posts at the time of her death are currently employed within the trust.

“The loss of life should be marked – this is an aggravating factor. In an appropriate case it may be required to send out a message. This is not such a case.”

Full report in the Staffordshire Newsletter here.

It could not be contested that the the boot has well and truly been laid into Mid Staffs over a sustained period; every NHS story seems to be free to reference it; nationally nurses are struck off every week, but we only seem to hear of those who worked at Mid Staffs and it is far from apparent that their being employed at Mid Staffs was not detrimental to the outcomes of the respective cases. An expensive public inquiry sought to reveal poor care at Mid Staffs; it did not seek to highlight the good care which many received from the Trust; nor was it particularly interested in the departments which had suffered no issues.

There was a reference in the Radio Four ‘Today’ programme on the HSE prosecution to the Kane Gorney case, audio here, a case which does not seem to have led to a prosecution by the HSE. This illustrates quite aptly how the mass media coverage is widely skewed against Mid Staffs: Kane Gorney died of dehydration at St George’s Hospital, in Tooting, in May 2009; if this unfortunate individual had died at Stafford Hospital this would still be in the headlines today, as it was the story which was attributed to Mid Staffs involved many thirsty patients resorting to drinking from dirty vases (which in fact had long since been withdrawn from wards).

One can but ask:

  • Which of these two stories is more newsworthy?
  • Which had a sound basis in uncontested factual evidence?
  • Which one did the national media report widely?

It seems that no-one wants this particular case to proceed; the family do not want it, it appears to benefit no-one except those in the legal profession. It involves one government department effectively ‘fining’ another government department. Any fine would effectively remove funding from a national health budget which is already experiencing real time cuts, and a local health budget which is already severely underfunded compared to the national average.

Greek tragedy often has these themes of individuals trapped by the machinations of fate, but in Antigone the existential freedom of individuals is stressed; what is all too apparent in the case of Mid Staffs is the inevitability of all this: we as a community have witnessed the sheer momentum of  the media and government pitted against us, continually hacking away at our hospital long, long after it had improved, I believe because of a pretext/subtext which we are seeing in the Conservative Party agenda for the coming election.

So it is that we are left with the sword of justice stayed; but still hanging over the trust; in its inevitable and impending fall all that can and will be achieved is a veritable and disingenuous ‘slaying of the slain’.


In Vasa Veritas

“It is strange about lies – any lies, all lies. They are muscularly stronger than truths. They come more readily to human tongues. They fit more easily into the games of this life. And in me they seem needful to my Artist mind.”

Mary Maclane, I, Mary MacLane: A Diary of Human Days (1917) p.51

It is an odd quirk of the human condition that Mary Maclane describes here: the ability to deceive would have enhanced the survival abilities of our ancestors. For millennia our forebears sat around fires telling stories of what were once real events; it is a part and parcel of human nature that events such as the battle of Troy were elaborated upon by a succession of poets and come down to us as the Odyssey and the Illiad.

But truth was not their foremost consideration, hence the resentment expressed against some poets by certain philosophers, some of whom themselves commanded great poetic gifts, such as Plato and Nietzsche. Of course some poets, Keats and Shelley spring readily to mind, cared deeply for, and greatly extolled the virtues of truth.

So it is that certain aspects of a story in the media are focused upon, the old adage, ‘why let the truth get in the way of a good story‘ has never been truer. Which brings us on to the subject of this blog, the vases, supposedly widely resorted to as drinking vessels at Mid Staffs but which had long been withdrawn from wards for hygiene reasons.

This story has no basis in substantiated verifiable evidence, but arose myth-like from half-truth. Even our Prime Minister repeated this story over the summer; despite an avalanche of letters and emails of complaint, and FoI requests raised upon the Prime Minister’s Office by people who contested this version of events, not a jot of the ‘well-documented eyewitness accounts’ which were hinted at to initial respondents, have been forthcoming.

Conservative's letter

The vase issue may seem peripheral to the whole affair of Mid Staffs but the central, crucial aspect is one of integrity; or lack of it. To hold any position in public life integrity is a condicio sine qua non, for a Prime Minister to repeat these unfounded stories must put their integrity seriously into question.

Nietzsche wrote:

“How could anything originate out of its opposite? For example, truth out of error? Or the will to truth out of the will to deception? Or the generous deed out of selfishness?”

Beyond Good And Evil; Chapter One, Prejudices Of Philosophers, Aphorism 2

I might suggest that there is a dialectical movement evident in the path of human knowledge where things are born from their opposite: humankind shares a will to truth which is seemingly at odds with an equal will to deception.

By means of a conclusion and summation; the newspapers will continue to print sensationalist stories because that is what sells newspapers – it is down to the us to challenge the mass media wherever possible.

Stafford Scandal in the Sentinel Again

Well, here we go again, one week after a similar misinformed story we have more of the same from Mr Blackhurst:

Stafford scandal forces the University Hospital of North Staffordshire name change

“But UHNS bosses fear its reputation is being dragged down by sharing a similar title with the now-infamous Stafford Hospital, where staggeringly high death rates were uncovered.”

The story of how those death rates were found to be erroneous, and that there were coding issues is well documented; the ‘excess deaths’ were not borne out by Francis:


Further to this is an academic report:

The findings of the Mid-Staffordshire Inquiry do not uphold the use of hospital standardized mortality ratios as a screening test for ‘bad’ hospitals.

And other articles which support this supposition:

Inquiry behind NHS scandal omitted crucial data

The real Mid Staffs story: one ‘excess’ death, if that.

Data fear caused Mid-Staffs panic

It is a huge issue that these factual errors are unquestioningly repeated; they have been perpetuated by many with other agendas, some through simple ignorance. You will see that the BBC has stopped reporting these figures – they know they are incorrect.

So Dave Blackhurst, regarding HSMR’s please refer to these figures from this summer:

Trust Comparison

UHNS is clearly responsible for far more deaths than Stafford; for those who live in a simplistic void.

Letter of Complaint to the Stoke Sentinel and David Blackhurst

Dear Sir or Madam,

I really must register my dissatisfaction concerning this unbalanced, misleading article which obliquely skips over the services being withdrawn from Stafford Hospital:

 David Blackhurst: Is Stafford Hospital really being downgraded – or is this the start of a better future for healthcare in Staffordshire?

At the first Cannock public meeting the TSA expressed openly that their plans for Stafford were ‘contentious’, and they absolutely are, to pretend otherwise, as you appear to be doing, is crass, misleading, ignorant or malicious.

I would very much like to see how you, Mr Blackhurst, or any of the residents of Stoke & surrounds would feel about their maternity and paediatrics departments being transported 40 minutes plus down the road, and far, far longer during the periodic gridlock which regularly accompanies M6 accidents and heavy snow; how ‘safe’ would that proposal be to you and your family?  Not as though I would wish these proposals on anybody. I can tell you for certain that babies, children and mothers in particular are being put at severe risk here. To pretend that these proposals are a godsend to our community is crass, misleading, ignorant or malicious.

“But the Hackett vision also brings plenty of benefits to North Staffordshire residents,” it does, at the expense of those in Mid Staffs; UHNS currently has one of the largest deficits of any trust in the country; Monitor are downgrading, yes, downgrading Stafford in order to bail out UHNS. To sweep over the massive negative impact on the communities of Stafford and surrounds that this downgrade represents, as you so lackadaisically appear to do, is crass, misleading, ignorant or malicious.

Meanwhile we see this terrible story – I ask The Sentinel and Mr Blackhurst, “is this an upgrade?”, just what would constitute a downgrade in your book? How many more must die?

So Mr Blackhurst, do you have any grasp at all of this issue? Can you understand why 51,000 people might march to keep these services? Which aspect of this situation do you not understand or comprehend? So,  my criticism of this article:

Is exhibits crassness:

Showing no intelligence or sensitivity.

Is appears to be misleading:

Giving the wrong idea or impression.

Is is ill-informed and hence it is ignorant:

Lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated.

It may not be deliberately so, but it is unconsciously malicious:

Characterized by malice; intending or intended to do harm.

This is a situation that can only get worse, and it will get worse while people such as yourselves with little or no understanding of the situation continue to write articles like this; supposedly written by an experienced journalist in a respected newspaper.

Nietzsche, In think, summed up the mass media, who he strongly derided, aptly:

The intellect of the Germans was kept down by their beer and their newspapers.

Human, All-Too-Human, Part II by Friedrich Nietzsche

Either you unknowingly swallowed the UHNS spin or you knowingly misreported the facts; either are unforgivable in anyone claiming to be a journalist. What is at the root of Nietzsche’s criticism of the MM is that it promulgates the unquestioning consumption of opinion masquerading as valid factual information.