Caron Heyes, head of Blake Lapthorn's Clinical Negligence team in London, as part of her role volunteering with AvMA , has been assisting its chief executive in preparing for giving evidence at the Public Enquiry. He gave his opening statement on 18 November, straight after 'Cure the NHS', a formidable organisation started by families of patients who died, unnecessarily and often with a lack of dignity, whilst under the care of the Trust. We will be following the inquiry closely, given AvMA's involvement in it as a core participant and more information can also be found on the AvMA and the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust Public Enquiry websites.
The Enquiry opened on Monday 8 November; eagerly anticipated by families, there was huge disappointment that they were separated from the main participants in the Enquiry and had to view evidence fed live onto a screen, rather than seeing the witnesses in person. Given the Enquiry is looking into why there were so many avoidable deaths at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2008, why there was a culture of denial within the Trust, and why regulators failed to pick up the very problems they were set up to identify and prevent, it is rather sad that those, who have been most closely and personally affected by the failings of the Trust, being kept at arms' length from the Enquiry itself.
By way of background, the inquiry will look at why the health care system tolerated a terrible standard of service from the trust, and even allowed it to gain foundation status, because it supposedly was providing a top tier healthcare service. Monitor, the regulator with specific responsibility for Foundation Trusts, gave the Hospital a clean bill of health and made it a Foundation Trust a month before the Healthcare Commission began its first investigation.
Previous investigations into the care at Stafford condemned conditions at the hospital, which are said to have caused hundreds of avoidable deaths. However, none looked closely at how the regulatory system failed in this case and what lesson could be learnt to avoid such a grotesque failure in the healthcare system happening again. Thus the Public Enquiry will look beyond the walls of Stafford Hospital at the way the NHS is managed and will examine millions of pages of documentation setting out testimonies from doctors, staff and patients from other parts of the country recording similar experiences.
Consequently, the key to the Enquiry will be the role of the statutory regulators. It is to be hoped that the Enquiry's recommendations should change the way safety in our hospitals is monitored and maintain the high standards of healthcare England and Wales' NHS is capable of providing.