Stafford Hospital Inquiry Will Demand Changes

David Crabtree, Sky News Correspondent

A report into the quality of care provided by one NHS Trust will call for sweeping changes to how the nation's hospitals are run and regulated.

Hospitals could face fines or be closed down for falling foul of new standards, while patient organisations could be given stronger powers to make sure their voices are heard.

Recommendations for Stafford Hospital will be made by Robert Francis QC, who chaired an independent public inquiry into its patient care and will publish his findings this week.

It comes as a survey of nurses found that more than half believe their ward or unit is "dangerously understaffed".

The Nursing Times poll also found that around a third of nurses said they had witnessed poor care on a regular basis.

A Department of Health spokesperson said there were more clinical staff working for the NHS now than two years ago.

Nearly 2,500 new nurses started working for the NHS in October 2012.

Up to 1,200 people may have died needlessly at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009, and the organisations and individuals who were in charge at the time will face severe criticism.

A previous report by Mr Francis condemned the hospital, saying the most basic elements of care were neglected.

Patients were left lying in soiled sheets and some remained unwashed for up to a month, while pain relief was provided late or not at all.

He said some patients were discharged before it was appropriate, only to be readmitted shortly afterwards, while food and drinks were left out of reach of patients, who were forced to rely on family members for their care.

The previous report found the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was obsessed with targets, cost cutting and processes.

After its publication in 2010, patients and families called for a full independent public inquiry, the results of which are now imminent.

Julie Bailey, who led the fight for the inquiry after her mother died at the hospital, said: "This is about making sure that this is never allowed to happen again.

"This is to make sure that each hospital is safe and that each person who puts their loved ones into a hospital can be sure they are getting proper care and not being neglected or in a place which is dangerously out of control.

"It has been a long and tough road to get this public inquiry. I hope those involved are duly criticised and that in the future, proper regulations are put into place to make sure that patients come before targets and costs."

Complaints continue to be made at Stafford Hospital. Only last week it emerged that a baby had been found with a dummy taped to his mouth in an intensive care unit.

James Duff lost his wife Doreen at the hospital in 2008. She suffered a stroke and lost the use of her left side before she was admitted.

"When she came out, she was paralysed from the neck down," Mr Duff said. "She couldn't speak and everything had gone. That was all down to lack of care at Stafford Hospital.

"After all that has gone on and what the relatives have been through, it is still going on. Complaints are still being made about Stafford Hospital."

The NHS Trust has defended itself against allegations of recent bad practice.

Dr Charles Spencer, the trust's medical director, apologised for past events which he said were unacceptable.

However, he added: "We have made huge changes to treatments at Stafford and Cannock Hospitals in the last four years.

"That is recognised by the fact that we are among the 20 safest hospitals in the country for patient mortality. Our infections are down our patient satisfaction is up."