By Kath Lavery, former Chair of NHS Hull and now chair of Neil Hudgell Solicitors, personal injury and medical negligence specialists.
I was horrified to read that Julie Bailey, who helped expose failings at Stafford Hospital, has been subjected to online abuse after being recognised in the Queen’s New Year Honours.
Ms Bailey, who set up the campaigning group Cure the NHS after the death of her mother at Stafford Hospital, was made a CBE for services to the care of older people. But, it’s reported by the BBC, that comments made on the Support Stafford Hospital Facebook page accused her of “wrecking health services in the town”. One post also said her award was a “complete insult” to hospital staff.
In my view, these comments are unjustified and incorrect and the NHS should be grateful to Julie for simply not giving up in her campaign to highlight the failings at Mid Staffs. I have read the patient stories contained within the Francis Report and quite frankly they make you cry. More than that, as the former Chair of NHS Humber, they made me question my own involvement in the NHS and how successful it was, which is how it should be. You should never stop that questioning and seeking assurance that patients are getting the very best care.
The NHS belongs to the people, so says its constitution. The organisation must never forget that and therefore the right of those people to be involved in the NHS, engaged with it and properly communicated with is fundamental to its success.
The Francis Report horrified the NHS from top to bottom. Thank you Julie for making us all aware just how wrong it can be if we become complacent on standards or build cultures where the fear of bullying or retribution stops staff speaking out where they see wrong doing. As a chair of 15 years’ experience the right culture starts with the board. Boards need to take responsibility for the culture of their organisations and excellent boards start with a chair who understands the job.
Of course, the report of on-line abuse of Julie Bailey is part of the larger issue of the abuse of women in social media. Of course, it isn’t only women who are attacked this way, but other recent high profile cases such as that of Caroline Criado-Perez, who helped to get Jane Austen on the £10 note, suggest is it a worrying trend.
Women who speak up or are in public office have very often been subject to sexist abuse and, as a former politician, I have had my fair share. However the increased use of social media sites has made this type of abuse very public. I am pleased to see the prosecution of those who made threats to kill and rape Ms Criado-Perez as clearly abusing people in this way is unacceptable.
Anyone who fights for what they believe to be injustice is to be applauded. Julie Bailey is a shining example of someone who doggedly pursued her cause. I hope that those who subjected her to this abuse have not spoilt her enjoyment of her recognition in the Honours List. I am sure, given her history, Julie is strong enough to cope with the invective but no one should have to.