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Report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry: Executive summary

Building on the report of the first inquiry, the story it tells is first and foremost of appalling suffering of many patients. This was primarily caused by a serious failure on the part of a provider Trust Board. It did not listen sufficiently to its patients and staff or ensure the correction of deficiencies brought to the Trust’s attention. Above all, it failed to tackle an insidious negative culture involving a tolerance of poor standards and a disengagement from managerial and leadership responsibilities. This failure was in part the consequence of allowing a focus on reaching national access targets, achieving financial balance and seeking foundation trust status to be at the cost of delivering acceptable standards of care.

The story would be bad enough if it ended there, but it did not. The NHS system includes many checks and balances which should have prevented serious systemic failure of this sort. There were and are a plethora of agencies, scrutiny groups, commissioners, regulators and professional bodies, all of whom might have been expected by patients and the public to detect and do something effective to remedy non-compliance with acceptable standards of care. For years that did not occur, and even after the start of the Healthcare Commission investigation, conducted because of the realisation that there was serious cause for concern, patients were, in my view, left at risk with inadequate intervention until after the completion of that investigation a year later. In short, a system which ought to have picked up and dealt with a deficiency of this scale failed in its primary duty to protect patients and maintain confidence in the healthcare system.

The report has identified numerous warning signs which cumulatively, or in some cases singly, could and should have alerted the system to the problems developing at the Trust. That they did not has a number of causes, among them:

  • A culture focused on doing the system’s business – not that of the patients;
  • An institutional culture which ascribed more weight to positive information about the service than to information capable of implying cause for concern;
  • Standards and methods of measuring compliance which did not focus on the effect of a service on patients;
  • Too great a degree of tolerance of poor standards and of risk to patients;
  • A failure of communication between the many agencies to share their knowledge of concerns;
  • Assumptions that monitoring, performance management or intervention was the responsibility of someone else;
  • A failure to tackle challenges to the building up of a positive culture, in nursing in particular but also within the medical profession;
  • A failure to appreciate until recently the risk of disruptive loss of corporate memory andfocus resulting from repeated, multi-level reorganisation.