Sir David Nicholson, the outgoing Chief Executive of NHS England says he bitterly regrets not speaking to patients and their families who were caught up in the Stafford Hospital scandal.
Sir David described it as his “biggest mistake” during his 36 years of service in the NHS, saying he had avoided speaking to those affected for fear of becoming embroiled in a media circus.
He told delegates at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester:
“The biggest and most obvious mistake that I made was when it became clear, when the Health Care Commission reported on Mid Staffordshire, and I went to the hospital and I didn’t seek out the patients representatives and the people who were in Cure The NHS, and I didn’t do it because I made the wrong call.”
Sir David announced he was stepping down last year after facing repeated calls to resign over his role in the scandal. Campaigners and MPs had called for him to resign after publication of the Francis inquiry into the failings, which involved the neglect and abuse of vulnerable patients.
The report published a year ago said the system had “betrayed” the public by putting corporate self-interest ahead of patients.
Sir David initially said he was determined to carry on, but in a letter announcing his retirement in May he said: “Recent events continue to show that on occasion the NHS can still sometimes fail patients, their families and carers.”
The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has agreed to dissolve the trust that runs the scandal-hit Stafford Hospital. The trust was heavily criticised in a public inquiry led by Robert Francis QC for causing the “suffering of hundreds of people” under its care between 2005 and 2008.
Mr Hunt said Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust would be scrapped and, while its two hospitals would remain open, many services would move to other hospitals. He said the changes would “secure the safe and high-quality services that the people of Stafford deserve having endured years of uncertainty and failures in care”.
He added: “I want Stafford to be a proper district hospital that continues to meet the needs of patients nearby, including for emergency care and births.”
However, campaigners who oppose the move said they may challenge the decision in the courts. Sue Hawkins, from the Save Stafford Hospital group, said:
“We were expecting the trust to dissolve. We understood from the outset that would be the case but we are a semi-rural area and people are going to have to travel long distances to receive care.”
“It’s been a very lengthy process. I wouldn’t wish this on any other hospital.”
Maggie Oldham, chief executive of the trust, said she wanted to “pay tribute” to staff at the hospitals:
“Mid Staffs has come a long way over the past few years and I am very proud of all of our staff and what they have achieved.”
Responding to this Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said:
“The decision to close Stafford Hospital will no doubt be welcomed by those who have suffered or have seen relatives suffer at the hands of poor care at the hospital, and will allow the people of Mid Staffs to move on from the terrible reputation their local hospital has gained.
“The real issue though is the culture that still exists in the NHS that puts processes above patient care. The behaviour and culture that permeated Mid Staffordshire could well be found in other hospital wards around the country. The Government must act now to ensure that we are not talking about closing other hospitals in the future because their reputation has been sullied by poor patient care.”