Doctors shun hospital at the heart of care scandal

The Sunday Times Published: 06 November 2011. Lois Rogers.

This article is the subject of a legal complaint from Ivan Phair

A 24-hour accident and emergency department is at risk as Stafford hospital struggles to recruit after one of the country´s worst medical scandals

The hospital at the centre of one of the country´s worst medical scandals faces a new crisis that could see it forced to turn its 24-hour accident and emergency department into a part-time operation.

Staff say Stafford hospital – at the centre of an inquiry into 1,200 avoidable deaths between 2005 and 2008 – has been so blighted that no doctors want to work there. It is also facing a rising number of complaints about inadequate treatment.

The hospital will this week discuss proposals to shut down the accident and emergency department at night and divert injured people to other hospitals. It would be the first part-time accident and emergency department in the country.

The decision comes amid new questions about the hospital´s care. Concerns include:

– The deaths of two patients who fell from trolleys while being treated in the accident and emergency department.

– Allegations of misdiagnosis, including a locum consultant who failed to realise a patient had a broken neck.

– Another consultant is allowed to treat patients only under supervision after the General Medical Council recommended he be struck off.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “How many more patients must suffer before somebody is held accountable? Even when they are under the spotlight, they still cannot come up to standard.”

Patients at the hospital, which is run Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, are said to have suffered “unimaginable” distress and suffering because of the failures in care between 2005 and 2008. Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, announced a public inquiry into the scandal last year.

The trust is still struggling to provide basic services. Recent inspections by the Care Quality Commission found the accident and emergency department did not have enough trained staff to ensure safety.

Complaints about medical care at the hospital trebled from 18 in the spring quarter of 2010 to 60 in the three-month summer period of 2011. According to the trust´s latest published data, two-thirds of complaints concern the accident and emergency department.

In August 2009, Andy Stubbs, 41, a musician, died after being admitted to the hospital with a head injury following a fall at his home. His father, Bernard, from Stone in Staffordshire, said this weekend he had been shocked by the poor standard of care. He said his son had not been given a brain scan on admission, despite severe bleeding, and he was later told by a nurse that he had fallen from a hospital trolley. Stubbs, who had written for the singer Robbie Williams, was admitted after drinking heavily and his father said he did not receive the care he required.

“At 6am the following morning we got a call from the hospital asking us to come because Andy was very ill,” his father said. “My wife and I were taken into a room by a doctor who told us, `You do realise how ill Andrew is. He might not make it.´ We… went into the room and my son was lying there dead. I just started crying.

“Nobody had warned us. We had expected to see him sitting in bed and when I asked the doctor why no one had told us, he said something like, `Well I did warn you he was very ill.´ The hospital mounted an investigation and said new recommendations had been implemented as a result.

In another case, Christopher Woolley, 58, who was blind, was admitted with heart and breathing problems and suffered fatal injuries after falling from a hospital trolley. Staff rejected his son´s repeated pleas to be allowed to sit with his disoriented father. Woolley suffered a fractured skull and blood on the brain after the fall in April 2009.

Julie Bailey, who founded Cure the NHS, said: “The reality is that basic standards are still not in place.” She said recent complaints had included a man with a broken neck who had not been properly diagnosed; a woman sent home after being told she had constipation when she was suffering from an aneurism; and a toddler given a potentially lethal paracetamol overdose in A&E.

The accident and emergency department at Stafford has six full-time consultant posts, with three vacancies. Hospital officials says they cannot fill the posts because of the hospital´s poor reputation. Two of those vacancies are currently filled by military doctors who could soon be required for duty in Afghanistan.

One of the full-time consultants, Ivan Phair, was found earlier this year to have shown unacceptable professional performance in arranging treatment, record-keeping and audit work. The General Medical Council has recommended Phair be removed from the medical register, but he has been allowed to continue working under strict conditions, including being supervised while providing medical services.

A spokeswoman for the trust said all serious incidents at the hospital were investigated carefully. “Incidents are reported to our trust board and regulators are kept informed,” she said.

She would not comment on individual consultants who work at the trust and said no final decision had been made about the opening hours of the accident and emergency department.