Patients were "routinely neglected" at an NHS hospital after management became preoccupied with cost-cutting and targets, an independent report concluded today.
The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Stafford Hospital, lost sight of its responsibility to provide safe care, the damning report found.
The probe was launched into events at Stafford Hospital after another report last March from the Healthcare Commission revealed a catalogue of failings at the trust, which also runs Cannock Chase Hospital.
Appalling standards of care put many 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, the commission found.
Today, inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC made 18 recommendations for both the trust and the government in his final report after hearing evidence from more than 900 patients and families.
But Julie Bailey, who founded the campaign group Cure The NHS after the death of her mother at the hospital, described the report as "absolutely outrageous", adding: "All he's done is recommended another independent inquiry."
Mr Francis, presenting his report at a press conference near Stafford, said: "I heard so many stories of shocking care. These patients were not simply numbers, they were husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, grandparents.
"They were people who entered Stafford Hospital and rightly expected to be well cared for and treated.
"Instead many suffered horrific experiences that will haunt them and their loved ones for the rest of their lives."
He said evidence gathered during the inquiry into events at the trust between January 2005 and March 2009 had shown clearly that for many patients the most basic elements of care were neglected.
Patients were left unwashed, at times for up to a month, and food and drinks were left out of reach of patients, the inquiry found.
Mr Francis also identified a chronic shortage of staff, particularly nurses, as being largely responsible for the sub-standard care give to patients.
He also said that while many staff did their best in difficult circumstances, others showed a disturbing lack of compassion to patients.
Mr Francis said: "The evidence gathered by this inquiry means there can no longer be any excuses for denying the scale of failure.
"If anything, it is greater than has been revealed to date.
"People must always come before numbers. Individual patients and their treatment are what really matters."
Health Secretary Andy Burnham said today: "This was an appalling failure at every level of the hospital to ensure patients received the care and compassion they deserved. There can be no excuses for this.
"I am accepting all of the recommendations in full."
He added: "This was ultimately a local failure, but it is vital that we learn the lessons nationally to ensure that it won't happen again - we expect everyone in the NHS to read the report and act on it.
"These events were unacceptable and do not reflect the experience of millions of patients that use the NHS every day or the dedication and professionalism of the majority of NHS staff."
Mr Francis recommended that the Department of Health launches an independent examination of how regulators and bodies such as strategic health authorities monitor hospitals, with the aim of learning lessons about how failing trusts are identified.
Today's report found patients were left in dirty bedding and were caused "considerable suffering, distress and embarrassment".
It said: "Requests for assistance to use a bedpan or to get to and from the toilet were not responded to.
"Patients were often left on commodes or in the toilet for far too long.
"They were also often left in sheets soiled with urine and faeces for considerable periods of time, which was especially distressing for those whose incontinence was caused by Clostridium difficile.
"Considerable suffering, distress and embarrassment were caused to patients as a result."
The inquiry also found that the attitude of some nurses "left much to be desired".
It added: "Some families felt obliged or were left to take soiled sheets home to wash or to change beds when this should have been undertaken by the hospital and its staff.
"Some staff were dismissive of the needs of patients and their families."
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