Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 12:40 UK

Death hospital 'problems persist'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Staffordshire General Hospital
Care at the hospital is now safe, the government says

There are still problems in emergency treatment at the hospital which was branded appalling last month.

The Healthcare Commission looked into care being provided by Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2008 and concluded patients died needlessly.

A follow-up government review said care was now safe, but problems still existed over staffing and equipment.

Ministers also announced all hospitals in England will have to publish levels of complaints in light of the problems.

One of the main reasons the poor standard of care went unchecked for so long at Stafford was that complaints by patients went unheeded by the trust running the hospital and local health managers in charge of overseeing the service.

However, ministers also pointed out that the Stafford case was a local problem with no similar problems reported elsewhere.

These reports do not sufficiently scrutinise what went wrong nor do they make a clear case for change
Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "I have been assured that there are significant improvements at Stafford Hospital, but it is clear there is more to do."

The Healthcare Commission reported in March that care and management at the hospital were so poor that receptionists were carrying out initial checks at A&E.

The regulator also said the death rate during the three years covered was much higher than expected with the hospital seeing an extra 400 deaths than the average for the health service.

The problems were put down to bad management which meant there was an obsession with targets.

Ministers responded by ordering two reports - one by A&E tsar Sir George Alberti into the current standard of care at the hospital and the other by primary care tsar Dr David Colin-Thome on the lessons that could be learned.

Sir George's report said while £3.8m had been invested in new staff, recruitment and training in the past 12 months, there were still shortages in surgeons and nurses.

It also said in some cases, such as ventilation, there was not enough equipment, while bed occupancy was too high in places meaning there was not enough flexibility to cope with surges in patients.

Hospital chief executive Eric Morton said he accepted the findings, adding Stafford was "totally committed" to driving through improvements.

Patient data

The second report specifically looked into why local health managers working for the local primary care trust and strategic health authority missed the problems.

It concluded the organisations did not do enough to seek out patient data.

The decision by the hospital to stop reporting patient complaints to the board was not challenged and the managers failed to look at complaints and surveys which indicated poor care.

The local health authority did order an investigation into Stafford Hospital in 2007, but it concluded there were no systematic failures.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "These reports do not sufficiently scrutinise what went wrong nor do they make a clear case for change.

"They are neither open nor independent enough.

"Whistle-blowing procedures were inadequate and neither review gets to the heart of why staff inside Stafford Hospital did not feel that they could speak out and stop what was going on."

Patient groups and the Tories have both called for a full public inquiry instead of the government review.

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