An estimated 400-1200 patients died as a result of poor care in a 50-month period between January 2005 and March 2009.
The hospital was run by an NHS Foundation Trust that was semi-independent of Department of Health control. Cost-cutting, driven by that trust status, was later cited as a key reason for how poor care took hold and was allowed to persist.
Alarm bells started ringing in 2007 when the Healthcare Commission, the then NHS care regulator, became anxious that Stafford seemed to have unusually high death rates. The families of patients who died also played a key role in exposing the scandal, forming the campaign group Cure the NHS and demanding a public inquiry.
The subsequent public inquiry chaired by Robert Francis QC found that “a chronic shortage of staff, particularly nursing staff, was largely responsible for the substandard care.” Francis also found that morale was low and “while many staff did their best in difficult circumstances, others showed a disturbing lack of compassion towards their patients. Staff who spoke out felt ignored and there is strong evidence that many were deterred from doing so through fear and bullying.” Francis laid much of the blame on the Trust’s ruling board.
Crucially, Francis highlighted the key impact of the Trust board’s decision to save £10m in 2006-07, as part of its desire to gain Foundation Trust status. “The board decided this saving could only be achieved through cutting staffing levels, which were already insufficient. It also ignored staff concerns,” Francis said.
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