Hospital had a 'culture of fear'
A public inquiry into disastrous failings in care at Stafford Hospital has been urged to examine a culture of fear, secrecy and bullying within the NHS.
In its opening statement to the inquiry, campaign group Cure the NHS claimed the care offered by the hospital was so poor that it infringed patients' human rights.
Counsel for Cure the NHS, Jeremy Hyam also submitted that the NHS had "lagged behind" other sectors in relation to patient safety.
Mr Hyam told the inquiry: "The problem is a chronic one and needs a drastic and permanent solution that will encompass not just a change to procedures and practices, but a change in culture and ethos. The stark and worrying concern is that the regulatory system supposedly in place was wholly ineffective to prevent a dramatic lowering of standards not just for a matter of months, but for at least four years."
The inquiry, being chaired by Robert Francis QC, aims to build on the work of an earlier independent investigation which disclosed a catalogue of failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust between 2005 and 2009.
During his opening statement, Mr Hyam asked how Stafford Hospital managed to obtain Foundation Trust status at a time when the actual care being given to patients was so poor that it was capable of amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mr Hyam added: "The inquiry is the culmination of more than three years of campaigning by members of Cure to expose the failings at Stafford Hospital. These failings were not just in the frontline delivery of care, but also in the consistent failure of the Trust and its supervisory and regulatory bodies over a prolonged period, to prioritise patient safety over targets."
Citing a culture of fear among staff, and of bullying and secrecy, as "cultural obstacles" to accountability, Mr Hyam claimed that such issues had affected regulators, as well as at the hospital itself.
Cure the NHS was founded in 2007 by Julie Bailey, following the death of her mother, Bella, after eight weeks of "abysmal and traumatising" care in Stafford Hospital.
The inquiry heard that she has since "battled for the truth" about why such suffering was allowed to continue despite concerns expressed by users of the hospital.