The NHS Trust that ran Stafford Hospital has pleaded guilty to “very significant” health and safety breaches regarding the tragic deaths of four elderly patients.
These criminal proceedings follow lengthy investigations into the Mid Staffs scandal after it was reported that between 400 and 1,200 patients died as a result of poor care at Stafford Hospital between January 2005 and March 2009.
Since then, there have been several reports written about the hospital and a public inquiry spanning more than two-and-a-half years was chaired by Robert Francis QC. That inquiry resulted in the Francis report which made 290 recommendations, saying “fundamental change” was needed to restore public confidence.
Criminal charges were the latest in a long line of punishments the Trust faced as a result of the poor care it provided. In April 2014, the Trust was fined £200,000 for failing Gillian Astbury, a diabetic patient who died at the hospital in April 2007 after nurses failed to give her insulin.
This latest guilty plea relates to the deaths of four elderly patients in the Trust’s care which date back to October 2005. Two of the deaths in July 2013 and May 2014 are particularly shocking given that concerns about the care provided by Mid Staffs were first aired in mid-2007. At that time, the Healthcare Commission, the NHS care watchdog, became anxious that Stafford seemed to have unusually high death rates and by January 2008, the regulator had highlighted several patient safety alerts suggesting that patients were being put at risk.
Nearly three years after the Healthcare Commission had issued its damning report it seemed that significant improvements had been made. The days of patients receiving substandard care at the hospital were supposed to have been a thing of the past. However, criticisms of the Trust re-emerged and patients continued to receive poor standards of care.
It was these poor standards which contributed to the deaths of four vulnerable, elderly patients - three of whom died following falls, while the fourth, Lillian Tucker, was administered penicillin despite hospital staff being told she was allergic.
The prosecutor told the court that Mrs Tucker’s death was contributed to by poor record-keeping and problems with management. The falls which preceded the deaths of Ivy Bunn, Edith Bourne and Patrick Daly were caused by failures to conduct proper risk assessments. These deaths occurred despite staff being made aware of the patients’ vulnerabilities and their susceptibility to falls.
The Trust has since been dissolved and only a shell organisation remains in place to “oversee the potential criminal liabilities of the Trust.” It is hoped that other NHS trusts can learn from the mistakes made by Mid Staffs and ensure that patients are never again failed in this way.
Lauren Tully is a clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.