Nurses working at hospitals that come under the media spotlight for care failings are likely to see complaints rise, evidence from the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry suggests.
Allegations made against nurses at Stafford Hospital shot up after the Healthcare Commission’s March 2009 report into care failings identified there between 2005 and 2008 was published.
I think it would be unfortunate if a more junior member of nursing staff carried the blame for what was a system failure
Evidence provided by the Nursing and Midwifery Council to the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry, which held its first hearing last Monday, revealed that 29 complaints had been received since the publication of the Healthcare Commission’s report, compared with just three in the previous eight years.
Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy said it was common for the number of complaints her organisation received to increase following negative publicity such as that received by Mid Staffordshire.
She suggested that this was because the public were not aware they could complain to the NMC.
Gail Adams, Unison’s head of nursing, said: “Clearly, when you open a Pandora’s Box, lots of things come out and lots of people start to raise concerns.”
However, she said it was hard to say whether such coverage led to a rise in unfounded complaints about nurses, rather than genuine areas of concern.
Ms Adams agreed there was an issue around patient awareness of the NMC but said the important thing was for organisations to develop an open “no blame” culture to deal with complaints at an early stage.
“I think it would be unfortunate if a more junior member of nursing staff carried the blame for what was a system failure,” she said.
Former nurse Julie Fagan, who runs the Campaign Against Unnecessary Suspensions and Exclusions in the NHS, said: “It’s always the same. The nurses get into trouble and nothing happens to the managers who have been overseeing these staff.”
Jan Harry, director of nursing at Mid Staffs from 1998 until 2006, was the subject of one of the 29 allegations received by the NMC.
At a disciplinary hearing last month, an NMC panel concluded that, although there was no case to answer on some of the charges, others merited a full investigation and issued an 18 month interim suspension order.
The judgement against Ms Harry reads: “The registrant was in a senior position with responsibility for the delivery of high quality patient care and, given that these allegations ranged over a considerable period of time, the panel concluded that there would be a risk of repetition should the registrant be in a similar role in the future.
“Also the panel were concerned over the registrant’s lack of insight and apparent state of denial in relation to the range of failings alleged and her corporate responsibilities as an executive nurse.”
The judgement stated the suspension was necessary to protect the public and to “protect the reputation of the professions and maintain confidence in the NMC as a regulator”.
Ms Harry, who has since retired, was criticised in the earlier independent inquiry for distancing herself from “anything other than strategic concerns”.
After leaving Mid Staffs, she was employed as interim director of operations at Salisbury Foundation Trust between December 2008 and May 2009.
The other 28 allegations made to the NMC are still being investigated. The regulator said it would not release details until they came before a hearing.
The NMC told Nursing Times the three referrals made in the years before the Healthcare Commission report was published were resolved without a hearing.
The current public inquiry is examining why the numerous bodies charged with regulating the trust and the professionals working there failed to detect or act on any problems, and will feature a number of high profile nurses (see below).
In his opening statement on behalf of Cure the NHS, a local pressure group set up to campaign for better care at the hospital, barrister Jeremy Hyam, criticised the Royal College of Nurses, Unison and Unite for failing to listen to their members’ concerns and raise the alarm.
MId Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry: the cast list
Among those appearing before the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry will be Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Peter Carter.
Mr Carter has come in for criticism from local campaign group Cure the NHS over his public support of the hospital during a visit in May 2008.
Legal counsel for the group, Jeremy Hyam, said its members “wish to know the justification for the complete difference in view as formed by Mr Peter Carter and the Healthcare Commission”.
Mr Carter told Nursing Times he had not visited A&E and the other wards where problems were identified and stood by the quality of care he saw in the parts he did visit.
He said: “All of the patients to whom I spoke expressed really high degrees of satisfaction with the standard of care.”
Representatives from Unison and other unions are expected to be called as part of the inquiry’s desire “to hear from those who might or should have had specific information flowing from the trust”.
Inquiry counsel Tom Kark QC said: “Why was there silence from them, or were the doctors and nurses whom they were representing silent?”
Chief nursing officer for England Dame Christine Beasley, as the country’s most senior nurse at the time of the events, will also be called to give evidence.
South Tees Hospital Foundation Trust deputy chief executive and director of nursing and patient safety Tricia Hart will be one of four assessors providing expert advice to the inquiry’s chair.
One of those expected to be called but who may not appear is former trust chief executive Martin Yeates, who resigned from the post last May. He did not appear at the first inquiry due to poor health.
Andrew Hodge, representing Mr Yeates, said: “His doctors will have to decide whether he is fit to give evidence or not.”