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Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 16:12 UK

Stafford hospital inquiry

Nick Watson
Nick Watson
Producer
Politics Show West Midlands

Pressure is continuing to mount for a public inquiry into the failings of a Midlands hospital where death rates soared way beyond rates considered to be normal.

Labour MP for Staffordshire, David Kidney and Conservative MP for Stone, Bill Cash debate calls for a public inquiry into Stafford Hospital.

Around 400 more people died than would usually be expected at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2008, according to a shocking report from the Healthcare Commission.

When the news broke in March 2009 the scandal prompted national news headlines amid accusations from opposition politicians that a government inspired "targets culture" was partly to blame for the chaos.

NHS scandal

The report painted a picture of a hospital in crisis with receptionists carrying out initial checks on patients on arrival at A&E, a shortage of nurses and a lack of experienced surgeons during the night.

Stafford Hospital
Stafford Hospital - under scrutiny

It also outlined a system where patients were "dumped" in a ward near to A&E without nursing care "so the four-hour A&E waiting time could be met".

In some quarters what happened at Stafford Hospital has been described as the worst NHS scandal since Labour came to power in 1997.

Sad story

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley summed up the mood when he said: "It is unacceptable that the pursuit of targets - not the safety of patients - was repeatedly prioritised."

Andrew Lansley
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley

Leading the calls for a full public inquiry have been relatives of some of those 400 patients who died - each having their own desperately sad story to tell.

Julie Bailey became one of the leading faces of the campaign after she spoke movingly and passionately to reporters about her mother Bella, who died at the hospital in 2007.

Looking for answers

"A public inquiry is the right way forward. We've got so many questions left to be answered," she told the BBC.

Those wanting answers include people like 79-year-old Jeff Guest from Cannock.

Mr Guest's wife Irene died after spending five weeks at Stafford hospital in February 2009.

Mrs Guest, who was 73, was suffering from dementia and was taken ill with dehydration and an infection and had to be taken to the hospital's A&E department.

Mr Guest claims the hospital said they could not find anything wrong with her and initially sent her home before she was re-admitted a few days later.

Disgraceful treatment

During that subsequent five week stay he says the treatment she received was nothing short of a disgrace.

"There were times when she was left wet through. She wasn't washed. She was ignored. That's how I feel they treated my wife. She was ignored," he explained.

"By the time she went to the care home the damage had already been done at Stafford Hospital."

Sadly this is just one of many similar stories to be told by relatives of patients who died at Stafford Hospital.

Survey launched

Since the full extent of the neglect became public a procession of politicians have added their names to a growing list of people saying a full public inquiry is essential.

David Kidney MP
MP David Kidney - at odds with the Health Secretary

Among them is Stafford's Labour MP David Kidney who has found himself at odds with the Health Secretary Alan Johnson, who has so far rejected the calls.

Mr Kidney launched his own survey into the troubles at the hospital as well as launching his own action plan at the top of which was a call for a public inquiry.

Public inquiry appeal

"The people of Stafford are hurt and angry about what has gone on at Stafford Hospital," he said.

"As a community we are desperate for things to be put right.

"What local people need now is decisive action to make sure that this never happens again."

The Conservative MP for neighbouring Stone, Bill Cash, has also made his own public inquiry appeal.

Systemic failures

"There have been systemic failures in the organisation and I have asked for resolute action to be taken," he said.

"The failure to hold the public inquiry would suit the Trust, Strategic Health Authority, the Care and Quality Commission, the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister but it certainly wouldn't suit the patients," he added.

So far the one man who could authorise the public inquiry, that seemingly almost everybody wants, will not budge.

Independent review

Health Secretary Alan Johnson, who has visited Stafford Hospital, said there was no need for another inquiry.

"We have made it absolutely clear that the independent inquiry was the Healthcare Commission and they've done their job very well," he said on a visit to the hospital.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson
Health Secretary Alan Johnson

Instead Mr Johnson has instructed Professor Sir George Alberti, National Clinical Director for Emergency Access, to conduct an independent review of the hospital and trust.

With the results of that report now in and the findings suggesting there is still plenty of work to be done to bring Stafford hospital up to scratch, those calls for a full public inquiry don't look like they are going to go away any time soon.

The Politics Show for the West Midlands, with Jon Sopel and Sarah Falkland, Sunday at 1200 on BBC One

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