Friday 19 July 2013

Mis-Communicator of the Week: Andy Burnham

The National Health Service is shaping up to be a major issue ahead of the next General Election in less than two years time. These past weeks Labour - who voters traditionally see as a safe pair of hands for the NHS - has attacked the Coalition government over A&E waiting times. After David Cameron's promise in opposition that the Conservative's are "the party of the NHS" this has been damaging. Labour currently enjoys a 30-point poll lead on the issue. 

Beyond the political points scoring, and last year's controversial reorganisation of the service, fundamental problems remain. Worryingly, the true scale of historic scandals are only just coming to light. It is the sort of cover-up and maladministration that would see bosses of blue-chip companies fired, share prices plummeting, calls for corporate bosses to be prosecuted.  

Today, the results of an investigation into death rates at 14 hospitals are revealed. It has been suggested that 13,000 people may have died unnecessarily  as a result of failures in the NHS under the last Labour government. This isn't just a scandal but a personal tragedy for 13,000 families.  

If one were following basic crisis communication protocols then the reaction from the Health Secretary in charge while these failures were happening, Labour's Andy Burnham, would be to show real empathy with those who suffered and a commitment to transparency. Not a bit of it.  

Somehow Burnham has managed to make himself sound like he is a victim not someone who had the power to prevent this happening. Andy Burnham has written an article for the Daily Telegraph  and made an appearance on BBC Radio 4's Today programme  seemingly more worried about his reputation and career than those who died. 

His robot like response - failing to mention the word "patient" in his Telegraph article or say he is sorry that so many died - is an example of how not to deal with a crisis. His penultimate paragraph in his article is revealing of his priorities - saving his skin - when he says "the public will be looking for solutions rather than a political slanging match", which he follows up with "So that's why Labour will force a Commons vote on Wednesday." 

That's the spirit. Force a Commons vote. 13,000 families deserve a much better response than that which is why Andy Burnham is my Mis-Communicator of the Week. 

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