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The Francis report into patient care and an abnormal death rate at Mid Staffs NHS hospital trust called for more transparency from doctors when mistakes affecting patient care are made.

However recent allegations against the Care Quality Commission over MorecambeBay and Cumbria maternity death rates have raised concern that another scandal like Mid Staffs could arise.

In 2008, the Healthcare Commission launched an inquiry into “excessive” death rates among patients arriving as emergencies at the Mid Staffs hospital – and a subsequent report criticised health bosses at the trust for presiding over a regime of “appalling” conditions in which patients were so thirsty they drank water from flower vases.

Junior doctors were also left to make important critical care decisions – and nurses were allowed to use vital life saving equipment without sufficient training.

New Labour Health Secretary Andy Burnham announced a public inquiry following publication of the report and in 2010 it fell to the new Coalition government to launch the inquiry.

Robert Francis QC was appointed to sift through more than one million documents and listen to the evidence of more than 160 witnesses before the Francis report into his findings was published earlier this year.

The main witness was Mid Staffs former chief executive Sir David Nicholson, who had headed up the trust during the period of 2005-2008, when the abnormal death rate and failings in care had been detected at the Staffordshire hospital.

Giving evidence to the inquiry Sir David claimed, however, that the conditions at the Mid Staffs trust did not represent a systemic failure in NHS care, as it was the only hospital to have been flagged up with failing care. Counsel for the inquiry termed his assertion “naïve” and “dangerous”.

The Francis report also called for criminal charges to be brought against doctors or anyone who manipulates data to hide abnormal death rates or failings in patient care at hospitals.

The report also criticised the Royal College of Nursing for its failure to support “whistleblowers” among nursing staff who had tried to highlight failures in patient care at their own health trusts.

Despite recommendations in 2010 that Mid Staffs be de-authorised – and a Francis report recommendation that a new culture of compassion be made paramount in the recruitment, education and training of nursing staff – many families who lost loved ones in terrible circumstances at Mid Staffs continue to question how this could have happened and whether it might occur again.

Some of the families received an average compensation payout of £11,000 from the NHS – but many NHS managers involved went on to hold senior management positions in the NHS, including Sir David Nicholson – now CEO of the NHS, but who is due to step down from his NHS post by March 2014.

The investigations into mother and baby deaths at Cumbria and Morecambe Bay NHS Trust continues to raise fresh concerns over patient care in the NHS and abnormal deaths rates which may be linked to this.

More information on the Stafford Hospital Scandal.

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