Doctors and nurses criticised during the public inquiry into disastrous standards of care at Stafford Hospital will not be named, it has been ruled.
Robert Francis QC, chairman of the inquiry, said it was “not the forum” for bringing frontline staff to account.
He said the focus of the investigation was to examine the operation of commissioning, supervisory and regulatory bodies and other agencies, in a bid to find out why problems at the hospital were not identified sooner.
Mr Francis said: “This inquiry is not the forum in which professionals responsible at the front line for such care can be brought to account.
“If I were to allow the identification of nurses and doctors and others who stand accused of providing poor care, they would stand accused in a public forum of serious complaints under the cloak of absolute privilege from defamation proceedings and be unable effectively to make a response.
“This is unfair to them, not helpful to the inquiry process and deflects from my central task.”
He added: “Fairness would, or might, require giving the individuals a right of response.
“It is, in my view, questionable whether such a right of response could properly be given in this inquiry.
“If it were not given, the individuals would have been accused in public of serious matters with no right of reply.
“I consider, therefore, there would be a real risk to their reputations and, where still employed by the trust, to the workings of the trust.”
Mr Francis said the anonymity order applied to those “involved directly with care of patients within the hospital” who were accused of substandard levels of care, but excluded “the directors of nursing, clinical directors, any member of the trust board or member of the foundation trust board of governors”.
Jeremy Hyam, counsel for campaign group Cure the NHS, had argued against the order.
He said: “The key issue is open justice and accountability. We say anonymity in such a case would be detrimental to the fulfilment of one of the main purposes of the inquiry.
“Names and faces in this context really matter.
“If no names and faces are given to those individuals there is a real risk that this inquiry will simply descend into a series of general observations made by various parties in relation to unknown and anonymous persons.”