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Protest delays Stafford Hospital public inquiry

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The start of a public inquiry into major failings at a trust was delayed when an angry relative staged a protest.

Will O’Neil, whose father died while being treated by Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, occupied the seat of one of the lawyers at the hearing at the offices of Stafford borough council.

Julie Bailey, whose mother died at Stafford Hospital and who set up the campaign group Cure the NHS in the wake of the scandal, said Mr O’Neil was not happy with arrangements for the hearing.

She said: “Will lost his dad in 2008 and hasn’t got any answers as to what happened.

“He wasn’t happy with the arrangements and felt that he was left out of the process.

“He felt that he should be in the main hearing room.

“This isn’t an ideal situation. Ideally we should all be together but this is best that we could do.”

Some people attending the hearing have been seated in an annexe and are watching proceedings via a video link.

Mr O’Neil eventually agreed to move and had a private meeting with inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC.

The inquiry, announced by health secretary Andrew Lansley in June, aims to build on the work of an earlier independent investigation into the care provided by Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust between 2005 and 2009.

The latest inquiry was beginning with an opening statement by Mr Francis, who will start hearing expert evidence next week.

He also chaired the previous independent inquiry into failings at Stafford Hospital.

That inquiry, which published its findings last February, identified systemic failings at the hospital, where managers were preoccupied with cost-cutting and government targets.

Launched after a Healthcare Commission report published last year, the previous inquiry revealed a catalogue of failings at the trust, which also runs Cannock Chase Hospital.

Appalling standards put patients at risk and between 400 and 1,200 more people died than would have been expected in a three-year period from 2005 to 2008.

The previous Labour government rejected calls for a full public inquiry into events at the hospital, instead ordering the independent inquiry.

Mr Lansley said in June that the new inquiry would be held in public to combat “a culture of secrecy” and restore public confidence.

Mr Francis said the inquiry was a “significant milestone” which would look into why the “terrible standard of service” at Stafford Hospital was allowed to continue.

He said: “We are all here because of the terrible standard of service inflicted on so many of the patients who went to Stafford Hospital and their families.

“Last year, in my first inquiry, I sat and listened to many stories of appalling care.

“As I did so, the questions that went constantly through my mind were ‘Why did none of the many organisations charged with the supervision and regulation of our hospitals detect that something so serious was going on, and why was nothing done about it?’

“That question was one which many patients and their families, and, it is fair to say, healthcare professionals as well, wanted to be answered.”

He added: “While we are not here to re-investigate what went wrong in Stafford Hospital, I think it is important… that we keep at the forefront of our minds the terrible effect of the system’s failings on those it was meant to serve.”

Mr Francis said the main purpose of the inquiry was to find out why no action was taken by NHS management before the intervention of the Healthcare Commission, and to identify what lessons could be learned.

Mr Francis went on: “In short, the task I have been set is truly formidable and complex.

“Nonetheless it is, I believe, a very worthwhile and important task.

“At a time of change in the NHS, it is essential that the lessons to be learned from the Stafford disaster are incorporated into its governance.

“That requires the story to be told, and those responsible for various parts of the system to explain what their organisations did and to identify where their roles might have been performed better.

“I am not here to try claims made by one party against another. The role of the interested parties is to assist the inquiry to get at the truth of the matter and to assure its effectiveness in fulfilling its terms of reference.”

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Where is the corporate responsibility here?

    It's easy to blame nurses and dr's rushed of their feet and unable to cope with inadequate staffing levels.

    Why isn't the chief exec and his management buddies held accountable for this?

    This enquiry won't tell us anything we don't already know.

    What the relatives and the public want to see is some accountability from those in charge. Those who ultimately the failings of this hospital are to blame for.

    But they are never brought to task for these things...why is that?

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  • I think you'll find that corporate responsibility is exactly the goal of this inquiry. To quote the article above

    "Mr Francis said the main purpose of the inquiry was to find out why no action was taken by NHS management before the intervention of the Healthcare Commission"

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