Government Response To Mid-Staffs Inquiry Leaves ‘Unanswered Questions’, Says Lawyer

Medical Law Expert Says Questions Remain About How Failings Were Ever Allowed To Happen


By Helen MacGregor

Expert medical lawyers representing victims who suffered ‘appalling’ care under the watch of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust say that until Ministers provide a full detailed response to the Francis report, patients are left with questions unanswered about how such failings could happen in the first place.
Medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell, who have investigated over 50 cases of alleged negligence at Mid Staffs since 2005, say while they welcome the initial response, it is crucial the Government responds directly to all 290 recommendations made in the Francis report last month to protect patient safety throughout the NHS.

In response to the report led by Robert Francis QC that looked into the unnecessary deaths of up to 1200 patients from 2005 to 2009, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt today announced a series of measure that will help to:
• Put in place a culture of zero-harm and compassionate care
• Detect problems quickly
• Hold wrongdoers to account
• Improve Leadership and motivation of NHS and social care staff

Plans include the introduction of an independent Chief Inspector of Hospitals who will introduce ratings for hospitals, assess hospital complaints procedures and be the ‘whistleblower-in-chief’.

Mr Hunt also announced that NHS-funded student nurses will spend up to a year working on the frontline as healthcare assistants to ensure that people who become nurses have the right values and understand their role.

Lisa Jordan, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office said: “In simple terms, patient safety should always be the top priority for everyone in healthcare but this clearly wasn’t the case at Mid Staffs. Hard-working staff throughout the NHS need support to ensure they can deliver the Government’s culture of zero harm, though many patients will wonder why that culture isn’t already in place.

“Patients and families though will judge the Government on its actions, not just on this statement which only addresses some of the recommendations from the Francis Report.

“Until ministers give their full response and put a detailed plan of action together responding to each of the 290 recommendations set out in the Francis reports, patients and their families will be left with questions unanswered as to how this could have happened in the first place and left waiting for the assurances they want that patient safety will never again be compromised to this extent.”

She added: “We welcome the news that a statutory duty of candour will be introduced for healthcare providers and that there will be new penalties for executives who withhold important information, though questions remain as to what will happen to less senior members of staff who are found to withhold information or cover up inexcusable mistakes.

“Openness and transparency throughout all levels of the NHS, from managers to healthcare assistants, must be at the forefront of the ‘lasting legacy’ of the Robert Francis Inquiry which is why a legal Duty of Candour is so important.
“In the report following the Public Inquiry it clearly stated that had this legal duty been in place previously, lives would have been saved. This is why we believe it is so important that it is extended to cover all NHS workers, not just those at the top level.
“No one can deny that human error is sometimes inevitable but the report into Mid-Staffs shows clear systemic failings over a sustained period of time where lessons have not being learnt. On top of that, hiding the truth is completely unacceptable and must no longer be common practise at any level.
“Going forward, any problems identified must quickly enter a formal and transparent process that must be undertaken by the hospital, the Trust, and the Chief Inspector of Hospitals and this process must be made clear to the public from the start.”


Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to medical negligence