The chief executive of Stafford Hospital, which was condemned yesterday for "appalling" emergency care that may have cost hundreds of lives, took a pay rise of up to £45,000 while the hospital was being investigated.
Martin Yeates, who was suspended on full pay by the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust on Monday, was told in a letter on 23 May 2008 of the initial findings of the Healthcare Commission's investigation, detailing the chaotic conditions in the A&E department, with unqualified receptionists assessing patients, a shortage of nurses and doctors and a "complete lack of effective governance".
The letter was copied to the Department of Health but Mr Yeates remained in his post for nine more months, until he resigned two weeks ago, before being formally suspended by the trust.
The Tories yesterday accused the Health Secretary Alan Johnson of failing to intervene when he could have done so to protect patients in Stafford. Mr Johnson earlier apologised for the disaster in the Commons, describing it as "inexcusable".
The shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said the chief executive, chairman and non-executive board members should all have been sacked or suspended last year when the Department was first informed of the concerns by the Healthcare Commission.
Mr Lansley cited a speech by Mr Johnson in October 2007, after publication of the report of an earlier NHS scandal at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells hospital, where at least 90 patients died in an outbreak of Clostridium difficile. The Health Secretary had said: "We should be spotting these issues much earlier and getting rid of incompetent chief executives or chairpersons ... rather than waiting for a report such as this, by which time, frankly, most of the damage has been done."
Mr Lansley said: "If Alan Johnson had intervened a year ago when his Department knew of the Healthcare Commission's urgent concerns about how badly [Stafford] hospital was failing patients, he could have secured the removal of the chief executive and ensured there was no reward for failure."
Annual reports for the trust show Mr Yeates' pay increased from between £135,000 and £140,000 in 2006-07 to between £150,000 and £156,000 in 2007-08. He had a further rise when the trust achieved coveted foundation status in February 2008, taking his pay to £180,000, an overall increase of between 7 per cent and 33 per cent.
The chairman of the trust, Toni Brisby, who resigned this month, had her pay doubled from £20,144 to £40,000 for three and a half days a week when the trust achieved foundation status.
Although the rises were agreed in February 2008, they were not confirmed until a meeting of the trust's governors' nominations and remunerations committee in August 2008, three months after the Healthcare Commission had alerted the Department of Health. The Commission began to have concerns about Stafford in 2007 and formally began its investigation in May 2008.
Mr Lansley also protested at the failure of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority to intervene. It is headed by Cynthia Bower, who is to become first chief executive of the Care Quality Commission, which will replace the Healthcare Commission from next month.
"We have to ask whether it is right that the person in charge of the West Midlands SHA at the time, Cynthia Bower, is now to be put in charge of the national regulator which heads up these investigations and which will be responsible for ensuring that this never happens again in Mid Staffordshire or elsewhere," he said.
The Department of Health said last night: "Alan Johnson has made clear that the Healthcare Commission's report is a catalogue of systemic failings that have no place in any NHS hospital. The issues at Mid-Staffordshire Trust were not known at the time it was authorised as a Foundation Trust."
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