A Stafford Hospital healthcare assistant who allegedly dragged a 73-year-old patient by the collar is to face a disciplinary tribunal within days – amid clamour for medical staff to be held accountable for the scandal.
At least four doctors and 10 nurses face public professional misconduct hearings in coming months over failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust after Wednesday’s Francis report exposed catastrophic standards of care.
The General Medical Council (GMC) and Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) are under pressure to take action after the Prime Minister questioned why no one had been struck off since the scandal broke four years ago.
David Cameron told the Commons: “We expect the professional regulators to strike off the doctors and nurses who seriously breach their professional code. But in Stafford those expectations were badly let down.”
It emerged that a disciplinary hearing is due to begin next Tuesday into Bulgarian-born Bonka Kostova, who is registered as a midwife in the UK but worked as a healthcare assistant at Stafford Hospital from 2009 to 2010.
She is alleged to have forced the patient, who had Alzheimer’s and was being treated for kidney stones, into his wheelchair when he stood up, pushed him into a bathroom and on to the toilet and dragged him out again “in a state of undress”.
When other nurses intervened, she directed a stream of abuse at him, saying “I hate you” and “You are no longer a human being but an animal”, according to the charges before the NMC.
One junior doctor, Chris Turner, described the A&E department in 2007 as “immune to the sound of pain”.
More than 80 medical staff have been accused of failings at the hospital since the scandal was exposed in March 2009. They include 42 doctors who have been investigated by the GMC – four face public hearings in the next few months and four more are still under investigation. The remainder have received warning letters or had their cases dismissed. The NMC said 41 nurses had been investigated. Ten are awaiting public hearings, and one is subject to an interim suspension. Two nurses who have had public hearings escaped sanction despite being found guilty of misconduct.
The director of nursing from 2006-09, Helen Moss, who was in charge when mistreatment took place, was cleared last month of any wrongdoing after a preliminary investigation found she had no case to answer.
Robert Francis, who met families of the victims, warned in his report against creating “scapegoats” because it risked creating the illusion that by removing them the problems would be solved. It was an NHS culture that put “corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety” that needed to change, he said.
Julie Bailey, founder of the Stafford patient group Cure the NHS, said: “When someone is harmed, or believes they have been, to have to wait so long is devastating. It tortures you. But no one gives a damn.”
A spokesperson for the NMC said it was working to reduce the time taken to hear disciplinary cases, which had halved in two years. “We recognise the process has taken longer than it should and we apologise.”
High death rates under investigation
The following trusts are being investigated after monitoring revealed higher than expected mortality rates two years running from July 2010 to June 2012:
Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Observed deaths: 4,789
Expected deaths: 3,910
East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
Observed deaths: 5,203
Expected deaths: 4,585
Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust
Observed deaths: 4,384
Expected deaths: 3,785
Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Observed deaths: 3,864
Expected deaths: 3,356
Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Observed deaths: 2,883
Expected deaths: 2,424