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'Immune to the sound of pain' - Why the lessons of Mid Staffs must never be forgotten


The NHS is still reeling from the catastrophic care failures uncovered at Stafford Hospital. Beyond the Bedpan has one question - what now?

The frank conclusions of the Robert Francis Inquiry into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Hospitals Trust were felt far and wide this week.

Hospital managers bore the brunt of the criticism. Staff shortages and a lack of leadership led to chaos in the A&E department, with one doctor saying nurses were forced to work extra hours and “were desperately moving from place to place to try to give adequate care to patients”. The results were predictably dire: “If you are in that environment for long enough, you become immune to the sound of pain.”

Others pointed to a slavish commitment to the four-hour target, leading to 96 complaints about inappropriate discharge from patients who were effectively sent home before they were ready or well.

Nurses were not blameless. The attitude of some “left a lot to be desired”, the inquiry heard. Examples of patients being left in sheets soiled with urine or faeces make painful reading for all concerned.

The outrage and recriminations will continue. But the million dollar question (not to be confused with the departing chief exec’s £400,000 pay-off) is simple: how can we make sure this does not happen again?

The latest from a Nursing Times survey suggests that 20% of nurses think the serious care failures at Mid Staffs could happen where they work. Whether fair or not, nurses themselves will shoulder a lot of the responsibility for making sure they do not.

We may not be the problem, but we can be the solution. Nursing is the single most powerful force for improving patient care in the NHS. When things go wrong, will you do something about it?


Readers' comments (36)

  • I don't believe training nurses to degree level should be demonised for the appalling care given to patients and relatives at mid staffs or anywhere else in the NHS. Most nurses, be they qualified or HCA's, would want to provide the best care they can, wouldn't they? Or am I looking at our profession through rose tinted glasses?

    Standards of care have most certainly deteriorated over the past few years and I believe this to be due to the NHS target driven philosophy. The NHS is a business which needs to compete for contracts and bring in revinue, that's an accepted part of life, but in our haste to get patient's through the doors are we providing the fundamental basic needs? I think not.

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  • Charlotte Peters Rock

    There are claims in the other comments, that nursing is a 'profession'. In that case, why don't these 'professionals' act in a professional manner?

    Where nursing conditions, and patient conditions, are intolerable, why are few nurses brave enough to act in the patient's interest, and whistleblow?

    Why, when a nurse does act as a whistleblower, do none of her 'professional' colleagues support her by refusing to allow the Trust's legal people to bully her out of her job?

    Is it because of the mortgage, the food, the fear of being sacked? If so, then such nurses are not professionals, and should be downgraded, to the status somewhere beneath caring people, such as cleaners and tea dispensers.

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  • Margery Mary Hawkins

    Lack of care is not new. All these things happened occasionally in 1956-59 when I trained (won't say where). Most student nurses were kind and conscientious (they were the workforce in those days), but some were horrors on the sly.

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  • Ms Hawkins - thanks for that, it is encouraging to hear that it's not only recently things seem to be not that great!

    There will always be the odd horrible wretch who you have to work with - when it gets really bad, I hope the furthest I have to go is to have a few words with said horrible wretch in private (if we ever get the time!), I accept you have to risk a lot and blow the whistle if things get beyond this, but the evidence for what happens to those who speak out brings on a cold sweat (there's a lot of evidence in the literature!)

    What I want to know is, why has no one who was in charge at the time, and paid a huge salary to reflect that responsibility, been taken to court? I think the board should face prosecution for the pressures put on (staff cuts for example), I guess we will never know, but surely that could be corporate manslaughter of those 400 or more patients?

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  • Eddie Newall

    When Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Health, was asked why the ex-Chief Executive wasn't being held to account, he replied that he was 'ill'. Doesn't that say it all? When the shit hits the fan it never seems to reach the boardroom or polititians.

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  • Too many patients help!

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  • recently i underwent surgery at a local hospital. the anaethesist was very kind and considerate explained what was to happen and so forth - the anaethesist on three seperate occasions presented himself to me and offered reassurance and information. the opd nurse was also very friendly and pre-operatively provided good care... however the consultant and the nursing staff on the recovery ward left a lot to be desired... their irritation at my pressence was noticable and i was told if i was not off the ward they would place me in a departure area till someone could collect me... this was less than 18 hours after major surgery and i was bearly able to mobilise and was still very off due to the pain relief... i wonder who comes up with these protocols for removing patients from their bed as it is at that time to somewhere wholly unsuitable till they are collected. as a nurse i am delighted to be of service to the patients i serve i think its high time that medical and nursing staff remember what they are being paid for and who is paying them - I pay massively into the tax system surely like everyone else who requires care art entitled to a kind and generous tone and attitude when they feel most vulnerable...

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  • I have to agree with much of what has already been said.
    I am a junior sister at an acute trust in the North East where they have just announced the closure of up to 150 beds in a bid to save 6.5 million just to stand still! They have frozen nurse vacancies but are still advertising for managerial roles and other jobs at band 8 and 9!. We are overun with modern matrons who pass on all of their work to the ward based staff.
    It wont be long before the bed closures hit home and they come running onto the wards shouting for discharges because the wards are heaving with acutely ill patients.
    The ward based nurses are overworked and stressed, sometimes running wards by themselves without a break, but the management only seem to care about reaching their targets and impressing the quality control commision (they are nice to us when their visit is due). They dont care that the nurses are frequently abused because thre media constantly portray us in a bad light. They just care that the job gets done so they can reap the financial rewards. The NHS is dying and has been for a long time.

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  • What happened to leadership, Accountability and Responsibility and the Code of Professional Conduct? Have these nurses (including the managers) forgotten the very foundation of Nursing and what about Patient Advocacy and good old 'common sense?'
    Where are the modern matrons and senior nurse managers? Do they not flloor-walk to monitor the wards and departments within the remit of their responsibility? If the answer is no, then how can they possibly justify being paid the elevated salary they recieve to fulfil the role?
    More importantly, what are they doing that is so much more urgent that managing basic patient care standards?

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  • I am absolutely sick to death of hearing the usual whingeing about degree qualified nurses not caring! It is absolute tosh and probably comes from those too thick to obtain a degree.

    It's quite possible to be uncaring and not have a degree as well!

    There is no excuse for a nurse to be uncaring. Compassion is crucial to the role.

    Extrenuating circumstances don't help. Chronic understaffing, chronic underfunding and yes Dr's who don't care (and there are plenty of them within the NHS and hospitals). . . . .plus successive govts who couldn't run a corner shop never mind the NHS.

    Some of you are like a stuck record banging on about degree nurses...give it a rest please.

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