Stoke & Staffordshire

Stafford Hospital: Ex-minister Andy Burnham gives evidence

Andy Burnham arrives to give evidence at the Stafford Hospital public inquiry
Image caption Mr Burnham was puzzled about why there was not more "noise" about the trust

Former Health Secretary Andy Burnham has defended his decision to propose that Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust be considered for foundation trust status.

He told a public inquiry he made the proposal based on "just four lines" placed before him in 2007.

One of the trust's hospitals in Stafford was criticised two years later for appalling standards of care there between 2005 and 2009.

Mr Burnham said it was the role of the regulatory bodies to consider the bid.

The current public inquiry, which began in November 2010, is looking into the role of regulatory health bodies.

'Different scrutiny'

It follows the Healthcare Commission's Investigation into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation_Trust in 2009 which found that hundreds of patients had died in Stafford Hospital after serious failings in care at the hospital between 2005 and 2008.

In response to questioning from the inquiry's chairman Robert Francis QC and the hearing's counsel Tom Kark QC, Mr Burnham said he had simply followed the applications committee's guidelines when considering the proposal.

He told the inquiry on Tuesday: "It's important to say that, that in itself was a different level of scrutiny from the ordinary ministerial submission."

At the time Mr Burnham was a junior minister in the Department of Health (DoH).

'No rubber-stamping'

Senior members of the DoH also discussed Mid Staffordshire's application along with those from five other trusts, he added.

He said: "I was allowing [Mid Staffordshire] to be considered by Monitor [the independent regulator of foundation trusts] for approval.

"There was no finality about what I was doing. I was simply saying that on the basis of what had been presented to me, there was no reason for me to stop this being put forward for further consideration by Monitor.

"There was no expectation whatsoever that the trust was then ready to be rubber-stamped. Far from it."

He said he had been of the opinion that Mid Staffordshire was about to be placed under a higher level of scrutiny than ever before, as part of the foundation trust application process.

'Four lines'

"At the time nothing was put before me to suggest that I should stand in the way of this organisation," he told the inquiry.

Mr Burnham denied claims that he had been made aware of a "raft of problems" at Stafford Hospital before approving its bid.

"The official advice to me was to allow it to go forward," Mr Burnham, the current Shadow Education Secretary added.

He also submitted a written statement to the inquiry, stressing that due to time pressures, ministers had to act on the basis of what was presented to them.

Earlier in Tuesday's hearing he said he had based his approval on "just four lines" of information specifically about Mid Staffordshire, from the foundation trust's application's committee.

Later in his testimony he said: "It seemed to me to be balanced, well-argued, reasoned advice and they didn't present to me any reasons why I shouldn't accept their advice.

"I remain very puzzled why at local level there wasn't 'noise' about this trust.

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