Tories set up new inquiry into hospital scandal

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A full public inquiry is to be held into failings at an NHS hospital that are believed to have cost hundreds of lives.

The previous government rejected calls for a full public inquiry into events at Stafford Hospital, instead ordering an independent inquiry. That inquiry, which published its findings in February, found that the hospital "routinely neglected" patients and displayed "systemic failings" in its approach to care.

Yesterday David Cameron said that a public inquiry was important so that the people of Stafford could "tell their story".

"I remember going to Stafford and meeting with the families, many of which had lost loved ones, some of whom went into hospital for a routine operation but because the standards of hygiene were not right, because the management was not right, and because frankly targets were being pursued rather than clinical outcomes, people died needlessly," the Prime Minister said.

The previous inquiry was set up after a Healthcare Commission report revealed failings at the trust, which also runs Cannock Chase Hospital. Appalling standards put patients at risk and between 400 and 1,200 more people died than would have been expected in a three-year period from 2005 to 2008.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, told the House of Commons that the inquiry would be chaired by Robert Francis QC, who had led the previous inquiry, and report by next March.

He said evidence would be held in public in order to "combat a culture of secrecy and restore public confidence".

Mr Lansley told MPs: "We know only too well what happened at Mid Staffordshire, in all its harrowing detail, and the failings of the trust itself, but we are still little closer to understanding how it was allowed to happen by the wider system. The families of those patients who suffered so dreadfully deserve to know. And so too does every NHS patient in this country."

He went on: "When this inquiry has completed its work and I return to this House to present its report, I am confident that we will, for the first time in this tragic saga, be able to discuss conclusions, rather than questions.

"We will be able to show that we have finally faced up to the uncomfortable truths of this terrible episode, and we will be able to show that we are taking every step to ensure that it is never allowed to happen again."

Mr Lansley said the Government was acting immediately to give more protection to NHS whistleblowers and strip away distorting targets.

"At Mid Staffs safety was not the priority – it was undermined by politically motivated, process targets," he added.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, said: "As everyone recognises, the failures in patient care at Mid Staffordshire must never be allowed to happen again. The BMA has already taken steps to support members with concerns about quality of care, and looks forward to co-operating fully with the public inquiry."

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: "The events at Stafford Hospital were particularly shocking, and it is vital that we have a full understanding of what went wrong.

"It's right that Robert Francis QC has looked at how patient safety issues were addressed from the ward to the boardroom.

"However it's also important that the local, regional and national bodies who should have been in a position to stop the problems are investigated.

"It is of great concern that unacceptable standards of care and a culture of fear and secrecy were allowed to continue unchecked by the Primary Care Trust, the Strategic Health Authority Monitor and other regulators.

"We hope that this inquiry will provide meaningful answers which can be used to learn lessons across the health service."

He added: "We launched our whistleblowing hotline so that staff could raise concerns over patient care where they work, and the RCN general election manifesto called for a guarantee to protect staff who speak out.

"Nurses are in a unique position to spot problems and listen to the concerns of patients, and I am very pleased that the Government is to take action on this key nursing priority.

"It is now crucial that this inquiry can get to the truth of what happened without disrupting the hospital. Staff are working hard to deliver good care and sustain the progress that the hospital is making."