The head of the Royal College of Nursing has defended his decision to praise Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust after visiting the trust while it was being investigated over suspected care failings.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter gave evidence yesterday at the public inquiry into high profile care failings at the trust.
Although the Healthcare Commission – the forerunner of the Care Quality Commission – was already investigating the trust, Mr Carter said he was not briefed on the situation at Mid Staffs before his visit to the organisation on 23 May 2008.
The inquiry heard that on the same day as Mr Carter’s visit, the Healthcare Commission wrote to the trust identifying serious issues.
Mr Carter said he was told by the trust: “Oh yeah, we’ve got the HCC in”, but said to the inquiry this was “not uncommon”.
He said he was not aware a serious investigation was going on at Mid Staffs, rather than a routine inspection. He said: “[There was] nothing that made me feel: ‘gosh there’s something cataclysmic going on here’.”
Mr Carter’s written evidence to the committee stated he had done “some due diligence” before the visit. But when questioned on this by the inquiry, he acknowledged it was routine preparation rather than an in-depth research.
He said: “What that would have been is sorting out who is the local [RCN] officer, where are we meeting?”
Asked whether he accepted that his actions could not really be described as due diligence, Mr Carter said: “I accept that.”
He said he was “surprised” he was not given more information, considering the later revelations about nursing at Mid Staffs
He said: “It is incumbent on people to brief me as to what we’re going into. Not for me to do the opposite. For the record, let’s be clear: I wish I knew then what I know now.”
He said he could not explain why staff at the hospital would not have “exposed” the failings. He told the inquiry local and regional RCN representatives claimed not to have known about poor standards of care at the trust. He said: “If they did know, then they were failing”.
He said during the “two or three hour” visit he met then director of nursing Helen Moss and visited wards, speaking with nurses and patients.
Mr Carter said during the visit presentations were made to him that “felt really impressive” and patients and relatives were “fulsome with praise” for the hospital.
He said he could not remember which wards he visited, although he knew it was not A&E or the emergency assessment unit. He said: “Hospitals are a series of micro-climates.”
After the visit, Mr Carter wrote letters to both the trust’s management and a local newspaper praising the standard of care at Mid Staffs – but did not specify that he was only referring to some wards at the hospital.
He said: “We didn’t know what was coming, but I wish I had been quite precise about where I visited.”
He admitted he wrote to the press “very rarely” and said he could not remember why he did so in this case.
Mr Carter said he was not aware of any adverse publicity around the trust at the time and denied the suggestion that he was prompted by the trust to write to the press.
He said: “I have built my reputation on calling it as I see it. I certainly wouldn’t have been used as an instrument to do someone else’s bidding.”
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