Stafford Hospital: Health Secretary Hunt agrees to dissolve trust
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has backed calls to dissolve the trust that runs the scandal-hit Stafford Hospital.
Mr Hunt said Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust would be scrapped and, while its two hospitals would remain open, many services would move to other hospitals.
The trust has been in administration since April when services were deemed "unsustainable" by watchdog Monitor.
However, campaigners who oppose the move said they may challenge the decision in the courts.
Administration is a pretty brutal and - for the NHS - quick process. In years gone by, troubled trusts would have limped on regardless.
But the landscape has changed. With the health service under pressure to be as efficient as possible, there is now a growing acceptance that action is needed to deal with unsustainable trusts.
And so, less than a year after this process was started, the health secretary has signed off the dismantling of this trust.
Mid Staffordshire, like many small trusts, has struggled to attract staff and patients. But its financial viability has also been hit by the scandal over poor care from 2005 to 2009.
However, this is only the second time the process has been used in the health service. The first was in 2012 when administrators went into South London Healthcare. That ended with one of the key elements of the plans - the downgrading of Lewisham Hospital - being overturned in court.
NHS bosses are confident this will be a much more straightforward process from now on by comparison - unlike in south London other trusts are not losing services.
That will no doubt elicit mixed emotions in the town with a number of locals unhappy at what they see as the demonising of their hospital trust despite the scale of the scandal that has engulfed it. But for the rest of the health service it will act as a shot across the bows.
Under the plans, Stafford and Cannock Chase Hospitals would be "operated by other local providers".
Mr Hunt said the changes would "secure the safe and high-quality services that the people of Stafford deserve having endured years of uncertainty and failures in care".
He added: "I want Stafford to be a proper district hospital that continues to meet the needs of patients nearby, including for emergency care and births."
He said he wanted to dissolve the trust "as soon as possible" to stabilise local health services.'A toxic name'
Stafford could still retain consultant-led maternity services after Mr Hunt agreed to NHS England carrying out a review into the issue.
The original plan from administrators had been for maternity services to close but this was later amended to allow for the creation of a midwife-led unit.
Mr Hunt has now agreed to review that decision to see whether consultant-led services - needed for more difficult births - should be retained.
The trust was criticised in February 2013 in a public inquiry headed by Robert Francis QC for causing the "suffering of hundreds of people" under its care between 2005 and 2008.
The inquiry criticised the cost-cutting and target-chasing culture that had developed at the trust.
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.
The inquiry made 290 recommendations aimed at tackling the wider cultural problems in the NHS.
Sue Hawkins, from the Save Stafford Hospital group, said: "We were expecting the trust to dissolve.
"We understood from the outset that would be the case but we are a semi-rural area and people are going to have to travel long distances to receive care.
"It's been a very lengthy process. I wouldn't wish this on any other hospital."
Cheryl Porter, another campaigner, said the decision to move services was "unacceptable for a community of this size". She argued hospitals in Stoke-on-Trent, Wolverhampton and Walsall were "not ready" to take the extra patients.
Gail Gregory, from Stafford, whose husband is being treated at the hospital, said she had expected the decision because the trust had a "toxic name".
She said: "The hospital has been made a guinea pig for new government policies." She blamed the poor care on "the rush to Trust status".
End Quote Councillor Ann Edgeller Stafford Borough Council
In some ways it's good that we have still got a hospital; two years ago we thought we might lose it”
She added: "Fifty thousand local people know the value of their hospital and this fight is not over."'A bitter blow'
Stafford Borough councillor Ann Edgeller said she was pleased the hospital would remain in Stafford but there was still a lot to do to keep essential services.
"In some ways it's good that we have still got a hospital; two years ago we thought we might lose it," she said.
"The most disappointing thing is not knowing what will happen to paediatric and maternity services.
"It's something we've got to fight for - there are a lot of new houses being built not half a mile away from Stafford Hospital and it worries me that UNHS might not be able to cope."
Stafford's Conservative MP Jeremy Lefroy said local accountability on the trust board was crucial.
"We must now see a merger with the University Hospital of North Staffordshire and Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust and not a takeover," he added.
Maggie Oldham, chief executive of the trust, said she wanted to "pay tribute" to staff at the hospitals.
"Mid Staffs has come a long way over the past few years and I am very proud of all of our staff and what they have achieved," she said.
"I would also like to remind patients that we are still working as usual and that they should please keep their appointments and keep using the services provided at Stafford and Cannock Chase Hospitals."
Philip Atkins, leader of Staffordshire County Council, said: "While this will undoubtedly be a bitter blow for campaigners, it is also an opportunity to show how the county can now lead the way in demonstrating how integrated hospital and community care can be both delivered safely and meet the highest standards."
Christina McAnea, head of health for Unison, said the decision was "bitterly disappointing" for the local community and staff.
"The facts show patient care has improved massively," she said.
"If key services are to be transferred to neighbouring trusts, it is vital that they are given the financial resources needed to take on the extra responsibility."