The East Berkshire health authority was ordered by a Commons select committee yesterday to investigate the claims, following a damning report by William Reid, the health service ombudsman, about the care of a cancer patient at the King Edward VII Hospital, Windsor.
The woman patient was admitted to the hospital in March 1990, and moved around from one ward to another 10 times over the two months she spent there, before being taken to a hospice where she finally died. She had developed serious pressure sores, and often been placed by the hospital in small side-wards even though she had told staff she suffered from claustrophobia.
In his report to MPs on the case, Mr Reid stated: 'Never before have I encountered such a lack of regard for the welfare of a vulnerable patient as in this case, where a financial decision produced a level of service. . .that never ought to have been tolerated.'
Yet his investigating officer's interviews with nursing staff were disrupted three times by other staff seeking to replace the union representatives who were present with managers. 'My official rightly resisted such pressure. I strongly deprecate such interference,' he said.
James Pawsey, the Tory chairman of the all-party Commons Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, called for a fresh inquiry after Richard Eassie, the health authority chairman, David Treloar, the chief executive and Maureen Calloway, former director of nursing services, gave evidence to the committee.
Mr Pawsey said that it was an 'appalling indictment' of hospital care. But of equal concern was the fact that the 'commissioner's investigation was interfered with', he added. Committee members demanded to know what actions had been taken to deal with this during disciplinary hearings.
Michael Lord, Conservative MP for Suffolk Central, said: 'This shows a lack of understanding about the importance of the case. The implications are extremely serious.'
Mr Eassie said that the care of the woman, which he admitted was 'highly unsatisfactory', had been caused by weekend ward closures - the fault of the district health authority.
But he disputed that staff tried to interfere with the investigations - claiming that he did not accept that part of the report by the ombudsman. 'I have not been able to discover there was such pressure,' he said.
Mr Reid said that Mr Eassie had agreed to the report before it was published and could not start challenging parts of it now.
Under further questioning, Mr Eassie admitted that interviews had been interrupted on three occasions. Two of the interruptions were caused by a consultant, he said.