Is the NHS listening in wake of Mid Staffs failings?
On Wednesday Robert Francis will finally publish his findings into the failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust between 2005 and March 2009. Failings that led to as many as 600 more patients than would have been expected dying at the hospital. The stories of appalling, inhumane care are now well known. The inquiry instead will concentrate on how the system itself allowed it to happen. Where were the statutory and regulatory bodies which are meant to protect the patient and ensure standards are upheld? And why were warnings not heeded?
But there will also be questions over whether the system is, even now, fit for purpose? At the heart of what happened at Mid Staffs was the failure of trust management to listen to relatives’ complaints. Nor did they listen to the doctors and nurses who tried to speak out.
Lawrence Hayward’s mother Eileen died at Mid Staffs in September 2011 from natural causes. But Mr Hayward has complained about her treatment. Nearly 17 months later it remains unresolved. It has been admitted that an open needle was left on her bed and that she was given the wrong medication at one point. And there have been apologies. But we have seen letters in which a doctor recalls a faulty nebuliser, then a second letter saying there was no faulty nebuliser.
Read more: Mid Staffs and a question of trust
At one point, the health ombudsman wrote to the trust saying that further work needed to be done by the trust to answer outstanding concerns.
Julie Bailey, whose complaints about the treatment of her mother Bella in Stafford set this whole ball rolling, says the complaints system at the trust is “not fit for purpose”. She says that almost daily relatives come to her to say they are not being listened to.
This is rejected by the trust, which says that while there are still improvements to be made they have come along way. Julie Hendry, speaking to Channel 4 News, was the person brought into the trust to overhaul the complaints system.
She could not comment on individual cases but she said: “I think the complaints procedure has changed a lot…we now have systems in place. When complaints come in from any source they are immediately escalated not just to a clinical director and the doctors but also to the general manager who appoints an investigator.”
In many ways, though, the failures in the complaints system are national. Mid Staffs has to follow NHS guidelines and many believe those guidelines are fundamentally flawed. Action against Medical Accidents has written to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for a strong patient watchdog, similar to the Community Health Councils, and they are critical of the new patients’ organisation, Healthwatch, which they say has already effectively been muzzled.
What Mr Francis will have to say about the system is, of course, an unknown. But he has heard plenty of evidence to know that the process as it was (and which remains largely unchanged) let down many, many patients and their relatives.
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