Page last updated at 20:44 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Apology at hospital inquiry start

Stafford Hospital
A second inquiry is under way into failings at the hospital

An NHS trust has again apologised to families on the first day of an inquiry into failings at Stafford Hospital.

The independent inquiry is into the care provided by Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust between January 2005 and March 2009.

In March the Healthcare Commission said about 400 more people died at the hospital between 2005 and 2008 than would be expected.

The trust said in its opening statement it was sorry for any "distress" caused.

The inquiry is being held in private. Protesters who wanted it to be held in public have been outside the building, in the Beaconside area of Stafford.

'Openly and honestly'

The trust's opening statement also said it openly welcomed the inquiry and wished to see a transparent and honest representation of the events at the hospital.

The statement, submitted to the hearing on behalf of trust chief executive Antony Sumara, said: "We are encouraging our staff to engage openly and honestly with the inquiry.

"It is important that we listen to what people say to ensure that we can build on the improvements we are making.

"Most importantly, the trust wish to learn from the inquiry to help us provide a caring and safe environment for the people of Staffordshire."

However, Julie Bailey, from Cure the NHS, a group founded by people who lost relatives at the hospital or felt they had received poor support from the trust, said the community had been "closed out right from the start" of the inquiry.

"They are not going to know what is happening," she said.

'Exceptional failures'

Inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC said it was right that the inquiry was held in private.

He said: "We are dealing with highly confidential information in terms of medical information and very sensitive personal issues and feelings.

"To get to the truth of people's stories I think its much better for people to give their evidence in private."

The new inquiry was announced in July despite the government previously saying there was no need as the previous Healthcare Commission inquiry had been comprehensive.

It was announced as part of a package of measures to tackle "exceptional failures" in foundation trusts.

The commission's report identified deficiencies at "virtually every stage" of emergency care and said that managers pursued targets to the detriment of patient care.

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