Grant Woodward: Who’s going to save us from the next Victorino Chua?

Nurse Victorino Chua was jailed for killing two patients at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.
Nurse Victorino Chua was jailed for killing two patients at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.
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FORTY quid. That’s what a life is worth in today’s NHS. It’s how much crazed nurse Victorino Chua coughed up for the fake qualifications that allowed him to kill at will.

Have you actuallly seen the documents that secured the Filipino a job at Stockport’s Stepping Hill Hospital?

I’ve witnessed spotty teenagers trying to get their hands on half of a pint of shandy in the local pub brandishing better fake IDs.

Chua’s nursing certificates featured a lovely smiling photo at the top of them – the only snag being that the bloke in it blatantly wasn’t him.

To borrow one of my mum’s favourite sayings, it wouldn’t have fooled a blind man on a galloping horse. But somehow it managed to get past NHS pen pushers who, you know, actually get paid to spot that kind of thing.

So it meant that 83-year-old retired company director Derek Weaver died in agony when Chua poisoned him with lethal quantities of insulin.

And brave Tracey Arden spent years battling multiple sclerosis, only to be killed in the one place where she should have been safe.

We know Chua murdered them and at least 20 others, but they could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Even more terrifying is the thought that there might be thousands of other Victorino Chuas out there, people working in our hospitals, tending to our loved ones, who aren’t remotely qualified to do so.

More than 90,000 nurses who are registered to work in the UK trained overseas. There’s a good reason for them being here – if they weren’t, the NHS would collapse around our ears.

But the Chua case raises the awful prospect that among the countless dedicated, skilful foreign professionals are chancers and, in his case, would-be killers, who have slipped through a net with more holes in it than Greece’s economic plan.

And the real sinker is that this scandal comes at the exact moment David Cameron is promising to make the NHS the 24/7 operation it should have been decades ago.

But guess what? That means hiring even more medical staff from other countries because we simply don’t have the numbers it would need over here.

So how do we know they’re not going to be buying their training certificates on the streets of Manila (or their nearest local knock-off shop) like Chua did?

Well, apparently ‘tougher’ rules were introduced a few months ago after detectives working on the Stepping Hill case flagged up concerns over his credentials.

But critics say these new checks are little more than a “box ticking exercise”, while wading through the credentials of the tens of thousands already in the system is nigh on impossible.

Shame it didn’t occur to the expensive swathes of NHS middle management that people could try and pull a fast one to get a UK visa and a decent salary. Oh well, that’s life. Or death, if you were one of the unlucky ones at Stepping Hill.

I’m not sure if this makes me more or less worried about the Tory plans to privatise the NHS by stealth. Surely private companies couldn’t do as bad a job of vetting would-be doctors and nurses?

Then again, when shareholders’ money’s at stake, corners often seem to get cut. You only have to look at the standard of care in some privately-run residential homes to know that.

Meanwhile, Labour look set to anoint Andy Burnham as their next leader – a politician who has painted himself and his party as the saviours of the NHS.

“There’s just one small niggle: the worst NHS scandal in living memory - at Mid Staffs NHS Trust - happened on their watch. The worry is that the NHS’s problems are only just beginning.”

Correction: An earlier version of this column ‘included the following statement: “At Mid Staffs NHS Trust, up to 1,200 people died needless, appalling deaths because of substandard care which saw patients left in filth and forced to drink out of flower vases.” We have been asked to make it clear that the inquiry conducted by Robert Francis QC did not hear any direct evidence about any incident of patients forced to drink water from flower vases. In addition, whilst the 1,200 figure has been widely used in media and other reports since at least 2011, it is disputed and the Francis Inquiry found that it was ‘unsafe’ to infer any particular number of deaths. The Yorkshire Evening Post accepts that publication of these matters as ‘facts’ was inappropriate.