Full public inquiry gets under way into events at Stafford Hospital

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 21 July 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c3952
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

    The long awaited full public inquiry into the wider lessons of what went wrong at Stafford Hospital was launched this week with a preliminary procedural hearing to outline how the inquiry will be run.

    A 2009 Healthcare Commission report on the hospital, run by Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, found that numbers of deaths were between 27% and 45% higher than normal between 2005 and 2008, meaning that there were between 400 and 1200 excess deaths (BMJ 2009;338:b1141, doi:10.1136/bmj.b1141).

    An independent non-statutory inquiry headed by Robert Francis QC, whose report was published last February, found that staff members neglected patients and were too focused on cost cutting (BMJ 2010;340:c1137, doi:10.1136/bmj.c1137).

    But campaigners continued to press for a full public inquiry to look at wider systemic failures, and last month the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government announced an open inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, with powers to require witnesses to attend and give evidence under oath.

    It will also be chaired by Mr Francis; but unlike the earlier inquiry, which focused on individual cases, it will examine how events at the hospital went unchallenged and unrecognised for so long. Evidence and hearings will be accessible to the public, and transcripts will be published on the inquiry’s website, which is currently being set up.

    The inquiry will look at the role of regulatory, commissioning, and supervising bodies, including how the trust became a foundation trust when its clinical standards were so poor, to draw wider lessons for the NHS.

    Bodies whose actions will come under scrutiny include Monitor (the regulator of foundation trusts), the local primary care trust, the strategic health authority, and the Department of Health itself.

    Peter Walsh, chief executive of the national charity AvMA (Action against Medical Accidents), which had pressed for a public inquiry along with the local campaigning group Cure the NHS, said, “Crucially, from our point of view, it’s not about what happened in Staffordshire any more, it’s about what happens in your hospital or mine.”

    During the procedural hearing at Acton Trussell near Stafford on 20 July Mr Francis said that the main hearings would start in October and that he hoped to report in March 2011. He said he expected full disclosure on a voluntary basis, but if this was not forthcoming he would have no hesitation in using his statutory powers.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c3952

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