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’.