Stafford Hospital: Hiding mistakes 'should be criminal offence'


"A story of appalling suffering": Watch Robert Francis QC's statement in full

NHS staff should face prosecution if they are not open and honest about mistakes, according to a public inquiry into failings at Stafford Hospital.

Years of abuse and neglect at the hospital led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of patients.

But inquiry chairman, Robert Francis QC, said the failings went right to the top of the health service.

He made 290 recommendations, saying "fundamental change" was needed to prevent the public losing confidence.

His report comes after the families of victims have voiced anger that no-one has been sufficiently punished for their roles.

Senior managers were able to leave the trust with little sanction, while most doctors and nurses involved have escaped censure from their professional regulators.

Responding in the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron apologised to the families of patients.

He said he was "truly sorry" for what happened at Stafford Hospital, which was "not just wrong, it was truly dreadful" and the government needed to "purge" a culture of complacency.

Mr Cameron said a full response to the inquiry would follow next month, but he did immediately announce that a new post of chief inspector of hospitals would be created in the autumn.

Previous investigations have already established in harrowing detail the abuse and neglect from 2005 to 2008.

This inquiry looked at why the system did not prevent the problems or at the very lest detect them earlier.

The Mid Staffs public inquiry

  • The public inquiry is the fifth major investigation into what happened
  • It has focused mainly on the commissioning, supervision and regulation of the trust from 2005 to 2009 - something campaigners felt had not been properly covered before
  • It was chaired by Robert Francis QC, who also led the fourth major investigation
  • It sat between November 2011 and December 2012 and cost £13m
  • More than 160 witnesses appeared at the hearings and one million pages of evidence have been sifted through
  • The final report contains 290 recommendations over nearly 1,800 pages.

In particular, it recommended:

  • The merger of the regulation of care into one body - two are currently involved
  • Senior managers to be given a code of conduct and the ability to disqualify them if they are not fit to hold such positions
  • Hiding information about poor care to become a criminal offence as would failing to adhere to basic standards that lead to death or serious harm
  • A statutory obligation on doctors and nurses for a duty of candour so they are open with patients about mistakes
  • An increased focus on compassion in the recruitment, training and education of nurses, including an aptitude test for new recruits and regular checks of competence as is being rolled out for doctors

While it is well-known the trust management ignored patients' complaints, local GPs and MPs also failed to speak up for them, the inquiry said.

The local primary care trust and regional health authority were too quick to trust the hospital's management and national regulators were not challenging enough.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing was highlighted for not doing enough to support its members who were trying to raise concerns.

The Department of Health was also criticised for being too "remote" and embarking on "counterproductive" reorganisations.

The report said the failings created a culture where the patient was not put first.

Start Quote

This is a story of appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people”

End Quote Robert Francis QC

But the inquiry said the change needed did not require further reform.

Instead, it urged everyone from "porters and cleaners to the secretary of state" to work together to shift the culture and adopt a "zero tolerance" approach to poor care.

Mr Francis said: "This is a story of appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people.

"They were failed by a system which ignored the warning signs and put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety."

He said the public's trust in the NHS had been "betrayed" and a change of culture was needed to "make sure that patients come first".

Target driven

The "appalling" levels of care that led to needless deaths have already been well documented by a 2009 report by the Healthcare Commission and an independent inquiry in 2010, which was also chaired by Mr Francis.

They both criticised the cost-cutting and target-chasing culture that had developed at the Mid Staffordshire Trust, which ran the hospital.

Time to care?

James Moore, who has left the NHS after working in A&E for 15 years, said reports of abuse made him "ashamed to be a nurse".

He blamed poor management rather than nurses no longer caring.

He drew parallels with being a waitress: "The restaurant gets busier, the waitress works harder and harder with the same resources and things start getting missed, she drops a meal here or there and people don't get their food on time and complaints are made".

Instead of dealing with the workload he said managers made the problem worse: "They'll ask the waitress to fill out more forms to tick that she's done certain things, then the restaurant gets busier and busier and the nurse has more and more forms to fill out."

Receptionists were left to decide which patients to treat, inexperienced doctors were put in charge of critically ill patients and nurses were not trained how to use vital equipment.

Cases have also been documented of patients left crying out for help because they did not get pain relief and food and drinks being left out of reach.

Data shows there were between 400 and 1,200 more deaths than would have been expected between 2005 and 2008, although it is impossible to say all of these patients would have survived if they had received better treatment.

There has been anger from some quarters after nobody lost their jobs as a result of the public inquiry.

James Duff's wife Doreen died in the hospital. He said: "Not one person has lost their job over this - instead they have been promoted and some people have been moved sideways.

"This has been a disaster yet nobody is accountable."

Sir David Nicholson has the focus of anger from families affected by the scandal. He is chief executive of the NHS and was briefly in charge of the Regional Health Authority while death rates were high at Stafford Hospital.

He responded to calls for him to go saying: "I think it's perfectly understandable, I understand the anger that they feel, the upset that they feel about the treatment of their loved ones in Mid-Staffordshire hospital.

"I absolutely understand all of that. At the time I apologised and in a sense I apologise again to the people of Stafford for what happened, but apologies are not enough.

"We need action, we need to make things happen."


Royal College of Nursing general secretary Peter Carter described it as a "powerful and monumental" report.

He said: "We welcome moves for overarching standards which enshrine what patients deserve from the NHS and from those who work for it.

"Appalling care cannot be tolerated and everything should be done to ensure that it does not happen again."

But campaigner Julie Bailey whose mother, Bella, died in 2007 at Stafford Hospital prompting her to set up Cure the NHS, which had been instrumental in pushing for the public inquiry, called for resignations.

"We've lost hundreds of lives in the NHS and we want accountability.

"We owe that to our society and to the deaths and the respect of all the loved ones that we have lost.

"We will go nowhere until we get accountability."

Katherine Murphy, the chief executive of the Patients Association, said the report was a "watershed moment" for the health service.

She said: "It is clear that he [Mr Francis] has understood some of the very real failings that patients and their families face day in and day out.

"It is clear from the report that there is a lot of blame to go around for what happened in Stafford. Unfortunately too many people have escaped genuine accountability."

BBC West Midlands special investigation, The Hospital That Didn't Care, on BBC One at 10.35pm on Wednesday, 6 February.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    All the compassion in the world will not make up for a lack of resources. I left the NHS after 40 years. I have seen the turnover of patients increase , staffing levels reduce, workloads increase and care become more technical than our predecessors would have ever dreamed. Stafford is not an isolated crisis, it is a symptom of what is killing the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    While continue to view social care as separate from healthcare, the growing elderly pop. will face these problems increasingly. We have wards staffed not by trained nurses, but mainly untrained nursing assistants. For the last 30 years the NHS has been the subject of gov. led reorganisation & the focus moved from patients to targets. We ask the NHS to cover everything for everyone, it can not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I doubt poor care at Stafford Hospital was caused by a lack of caring. NHS nurses and doctors are overworked all over the UK, with various irrelevant bureaucratic tasks to be completed, and pointless change going on all the time that everyone is supposed to embrace. Whistleblowers are not truly encouraged. The watchdog body CQC is more concerned with paper evidence than that of its own eyes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Unfortunately although a severe case the Stafford experience is by no means isolated. Having had dealings with three different hospitals in three counties over the last five years in respect of a husband with dementia, the lack of care, dignity and just plain respect beggars belief. Lets stop nibbling at the edges of the problem and get back to the basics of a patient driven culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Appalled to note that as soon as the PM stood up to make his statement, more than half of MPs on both side of the House left to get lunch. Given that MPs are criticised for not doing enough about the issue, I find it appalling that so many of those who are meant to represent us the voter could not be bothered to stay and listen.


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