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Mid Staffs hospital scandal: The key questions about the inquiry

As the long-awaited reported of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry is finally published, here are the key issues surrounding the hospital scandal.

- What is the inquiry all about?

After revelations that up to 1,200 people may have died needlessly at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009, the Inquiry's aim was to find out why serious problems at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust were not identified and acted on sooner, and to find lessons to be learnt for the future.

A previous report by Inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC in 2010 condemned the hospital, saying the most basic elements of care were neglected, including patients left lying in soiled sheets and some remaining unwashed for up to a month.

After the previous report, which found the Trust was obsessed with targets, cost cutting and processes, patients and families called for a full independent public inquiry, which is now publishing its report.

- What is the difference between this Inquiry and the previous inquiry?

This is a Public Inquiry set up under the Inquiries Act 2005, whereas the first independent inquiry was set up under the NHS Act 2006.

The focus of this Inquiry was to look at the broader monitoring system in relation to Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, rather than individual cases of patient care, or the internal operation of the Trust.

- Why was the decision taken to have an Inquiry, and by whom?

The Inquiry was set up by the Andrew Lansley, then Health Secretary, on June 9, 2010. In his statement to the Commons, he said: "This is a basic duty of any Government.

"For the people of Staffordshire, many of whose relatives suffered unbearably in the closing stages of their lives, and for the nation as a whole, this is the very least they are entitled to."

- What was the timescale of the Inquiry?

The Inquiry was announced on June 9, 2010. It started with witness statements being taken in July 2010, then oral hearings began in Stafford on November 8, 2010, ending on December 1, 2011.

A series of seven seminars was also held in October and November 2011, to explain the "forward-looking" part of its terms of reference. Chairman Robert Francis QC has also been on a number of visits to observe and identify examples of good practice and some context in relation to NHS healthcare provision.

The final stage was the writing of the final report, which is being published today. After discussions with the Health Secretary, Mr Francis announced on January 23 that the report would be delivered yesterday, and published and laid before Parliament today.

- Why were hearings at Stafford Borough Council?

The aim was to hold the hearings as close as possible to the people most affected by the events at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, and the facilities at Stafford Borough Council allowed it to do this, as well as meet the requirement of conducting its proceedings efficiently and proportionately, and to have regard to the cost to the public purse.

- Who gave evidence at the hearings?

The witnesses called to give evidence in person at the hearings were decided following review of the written evidence submitted.

In total, the Inquiry heard from 164 witnesses in person, and 87 witness statements and 39 provisional statements were 'read' into the Inquiry's record.

- How much has it all cost and who is paying?

The Inquiry cost stands at £13million, paid for by the Department of Health.

- It is now two-and-a-half years since the Inquiry was announced in June 2010. Why has it taken so long?

The inquiry has gathered a large amount of evidence, and has been through several stages including the appointment of assessors and requesting of evidence; public hearings; public seminars; and a series of visits to healthcare organisations.

Mr Francis previously expected to deliver his final report in October, but it was delayed when he realised he needed longer to fulfil the terms of reference.

According to the Inquiry's own website, it has proceeded "as quickly as possible" and the Chairman is keen to ensure his report is "timely, helpful and relevant" and that speed cannot be at the expense of a "fair, open and proper process".