Stafford Hospital public inquiry finally underway

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Stafford Hospital public inquiry finally underway

8th November 2010

A full public inquiry into the scandal-hit Stafford Hospital finally began today, years after campaigners first demanded an open hearing.

Welcoming the news, Daniel Lee, a clinical negligence specialist at Fentons Solicitors LLP, said: "It is vital the families of those who suffered so dreadfully, as well as the wider public, are finally able to understand how and why the regulatory and supervisory systems responsible for patient safety and quality of care failed so appallingly."

The problems at Stafford Hospital, run by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, were first exposed by the NHS regulator in March 2009 with the Healthcare Commission reporting an extra 400 more deaths than expected had occurred between 2005 and 2008.

A 2009 independent inquiry chaired by Robert Francis QC condemned conditions at the hospital, revealing an astonishing catalogue of failings. These included reports that untrained hospital receptionists had been used to assess emergency patients, and hospital management had been too pre-occupied with cost-cutting and meeting targets - with patients being routinely neglected as a result.

Following the independent inquiry findings, 'Cure the NHS' - a campaign group set up by the families of victims - demanded a more wide-ranging probe with tougher powers saying the failings went far wider than the hospital itself, and that the NHS and regulators should have realised problems existed and stepped in earlier.

Unlike the independent inquiry which was held behind closed doors for reasons of confidentiality, the current public inquiry, again chaired by Robert Francis QC, is held openly and has the power to compel witnesses to attend and give evidence under oath, all of which will be publicly accessible.

"The fact that this inquiry is now public is of the utmost importance to campaigners and those affected by the hospital's tragic failings," said Daniel. "This inquiry is all about accountability, openness and understanding. It is the very least the families of those who died are entitled to."

On the opening day of the inquiry - which will consider over a million pages of evidence and hear from dozens of witnesses - Robert Francis QC applauded the tenacity shown by relatives and 'Cure the NHS' campaigners, saying that without their continued calls for a full investigation, many of the findings would have never seen the light of day.

Outlining the aims of the inquiry, Mr Francis explained how it will examine the reasons failings had come about and what part NHS structure and the inaction of management had to play into why failings had remained undetected for so long.

"Too many people have been waiting years for senior NHS managers and former health ministers to provide these answers," said Daniel. "With the impending reorganisation of the NHS, it is crucial public confidence in the trust and the NHS is restored. Victims and their families will be hoping for a significant culture change in the NHS, and assurances that the appalling and tragic failings in standards of care found at Stafford Hospital can never again be repeated."

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Source - BBC