New UK patients' champion to fight bad care

Nurse Standards of care in the NHS have been in the spotlight in the past year

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The man who led the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal has agreed to become president of the Patients Association, promising to do all he can to rid the NHS of bad care.

Robert Francis's appointment to the UK's most high-profile patient group has coincided with it publishing its annual dossier of patient stories.

The 14 case studies detail "shocking" examples of poor care.

They include lapses in both hospitals and nursing homes.

Common themes include patients not getting the help they needed eating, drinking or going to the toilet, being treated with a lack of dignity and having delays in their treatment.

The patient stories featured include:

  • Eighty-four-year-old Olive Burns, who went into Tameside Hospital in Greater Manchester with a suspected fractured hip. Her condition deteriorated so rapidly her family thought she had been placed on the controversial Liverpool Care Pathway for end-of-life care. The family later came to the conclusion staff had simply "forgotten" to treat her. The hospital has said it is "truly sorry" for the care she received.
  • John Moore, who was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour in early 2013. An operation was delayed after a junior doctor at Surrey's Frimley Park Hospital forgot to make a critical referral to St George's Hospital in London. One consultant who told Mr Moore he would die from his tumour also said he just had to "accept it and get on with it". He died in August aged 72. Both hospitals have apologised.
  • Averil Hart, a 19-year-old student who suffered from anorexia. On her release from hospital, her care plan stated that she was at high risk. Neither of the two NHS teams responsible for her care communicated with each other and so regular checks did not take place. She died following a relapse.

The publication of the dossier comes just a week after the government published its response to the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital inquiry, which was chaired by Mr Francis.

The "blueprint" promised the introduction of set nurse-to-patient staffing levels, a new law of wilful neglect and a barring system for poor managers.

The measures were set out after the Francis Inquiry, published in February, highlighted a series of cultural problems in the NHS.

Who is Robert Francis?

Robert Francis QC

His name has become synonymous with the Stafford Hospital scandal. Mr Francis chaired the first inquiry in 2010 which laid bare the abuse and neglect suffered by patients from 2005 to 2009.

When the coalition government announced there would be a full public inquiry following the 2010 election, he was the obvious choice to lead it.

His report, published in February, has led to a series of other reviews, culminating in a detailed "blueprint" for change last week.

He has been described as "formidable" and "forensic" in his day job as a medical negligence barrister.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "The government needs to ensure that the changes made to the NHS in the next few years put the patient and their needs at the centre of everything they do, in order to ensure that the sort of cases shown in this report are not repeated."

Learning from mistakes

Mr Francis praised the Patients Association for being "ardent campaigners" and promised he would be doing his best to continue the "invaluable work".

"The experiences of patients and relatives remain the best way to detect care that is being delivered without care and compassion.

"Let us all hope that in the near future we will stop having to listen to disturbing reports of poor and unsafe care in many different places and instead be looking at a service which has learned from the mistakes, and has ensured that the excellent practice we know exists has become the norm."

The role of president of the group has remained vacant since Claire Rayner, the previous incumbent, died over three years ago.

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Peter Carter said the cases highlighted by the Patients Association were "deeply shocking".

He added: "This report comes at the end of a tumultuous year for the health service. It is vital that the reports and reviews we have seen this year do not simply gather dust, and it would be unforgivable if this opportunity to learn and make improvements for patients was missed."

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