Vital evidence of concerns raised by nurses about staff shortages and care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust has disappeared into a “black hole”.
More than 500 incident reports made by trust staff have been misplaced, the public inquiry into failings at Mid Staffordshire has heard.
The disappearance of the reports has led to a delay in scheduled appearances at the inquiry of senior nursing figures, including Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter.
The inquiry heard nurses at the trust had completed “in the region of 500 or so incident or accident forms” that could not be found.
The trust presented the original Healthcare Commission investigation with 515 official concerns raised by staff, including nurses, about care on wards 10, 11 and 12 between April 2005 and August 2008. Of these, 37% related to staffing. Across the whole trust, 93 incidents relating to staff shortages were logged in just two months between July and August 2007.
According to the Healthcare Commission’s report, published in March 2009, none of the incident reports was “drawn to the attention of the [trust’s] board”.
Despite repeated requests by local campaign group Cure the NHS, the documents have still not been found.
The loss of the reports chimes with claims made to Nursing Times by union representatives and former nurses at the trust when the scandal broke two years ago.
Elizabeth Clare, who worked in the accident and emergency department, said she filled in countless incident report forms but without response.
RCN West Midlands regional director Patricia Marquis told Nursing Times that incident reporting forms submitted by staff appeared to “fall into a black hole”.
The inquiry heard the trust’s legal counsel believed all relevant evidence had been handed to the inquiry but searches on the inquiry’s computer system have failed to uncover the missing forms.
Mr Carter was due to appear last week, along with other RCN representatives. But Cure the NHS called for his appearance to be postponed while the missing reports were found, so they would have the opportunity to question him on the concerns raised.
Jeremy Hyam, counsel for the campaign group, said: “We just can’t believe that [RCN] members would be making these sort of complaints without… some sort of union backing or knowledge.
“We were seeking these documents [so we would be able] to put them to him [Peter Carter] in a meaningful way, having analysed or digested them.”
Inquiry chair Sir Robert Francis ordered Mr Carter’s verbal evidence be put back while the hunt for the missing documents continued.
The inquiry is the second investigation into the trust. It is focusing on why organisations regulating the trust failed to spot what was happening.
It is also examining the role of the professional bodies and unions, including the RCN, and why members’ concerns were not escalated.
In a statement submitted to the inquiry, Mr Carter admitted the union was not aware of the complaints at the time.
Reading from Mr Carter’s statement, Mr Hyam said: “It’s clear [the incident forms] weren’t being acted upon.”