A campaigner whose mother died at an NHS hospital criticised over disastrous standards of care today told an inquiry she still has “huge concerns” about the treatment of vulnerable patients.
Julie Bailey set up the campaign group Cure The NHS after her 86-year-old mother, Bella Bailey, died at Stafford Hospital, which has been accused of putting targets and cost-cutting ahead of patient welfare.
Giving evidence at a public inquiry in Stafford into care provided by the trust between 2005 and 2008, Miss Bailey said although conditions appear to have improved, her campaign group continued to receive “very worrying complaints” about the hospital.
She said: “I believe things have improved a lot at the hospital.
“We’re getting far less complaints, but we are still getting very worrying complaints coming through to us.
“We have still got huge concerns about what is going on at the hospital regarding vulnerable and elderly patients.”
Miss Bailey told the inquiry that NHS complaints handling had improved “very much” in recent years, but added: “Until the NHS welcomes complaints, only then can we improve things in the NHS.”
Following the death of her mother in November 2007, Miss Bailey lobbied for an open investigation into how appalling standards of care were allowed to persist at the hospital.
The inquiry, chaired by Robert Francis QC, was launched earlier this month.
Yesterday she described the scenes she witnessed at the hospital where she slept overnight for eight weeks, telling Mr Francis that patients were left “screaming out” in pain on chaotic and under-staffed wards.
She revealed that her mother collapsed on Ward 11 of the hospital after being left in a chair with no oxygen supply because there were no nurses available to reconnect the canister and told the inquiry she saw patients drinking water from vases on “several occasions”.
Miss Bailey, whose mother died from heart failure on 8 November 2007, said she was “unhappy” with the response from the Department of Health when she tried to raise her concerns with them on a number of occasions.
She said: “I’ve been unhappy with every member of the Department of Health that I have tried to engage with.”
She told the inquiry that after a meeting with Ben Bradshaw, the then junior health minister, last year, she was left with the view that he had no “grasp” of the problems at the hospital.
She said: “Basically, what he was telling me to do was to go back to the complaints procedure at the hospital, which seemed particularly bizarre.
“He really didn’t have a grasp of what was going on at the hospital, never mind the NHS.”
Miss Bailey said yesterday she had been “absolutely devastated” to receive a letter on behalf of Alan Johnson, the then health secretary, offering his condolences on the loss of her “wife”.
The letter was in reply to a complaint she had written to the Department of Health about her mother’s treatment.
She said: “I felt absolutely devastated at the time.
“You go to the person you think is there to look after you… and I got this response back, as if they hadn’t even read the letter.
“It was utter contempt. I didn’t think they had even read my letter.”
Janet Robinson, whose son John Moore-Robinson died in April 2006, after being treated at the accident and emergency department at Stafford Hospital, told the inquiry she had “had to fight” for information about her son’s treatment.
The 20-year-old suffered a ruptured spleen following a fall from his mountain bike in Cannock Chase.
He was taken to Stafford Hospital from the scene of the accident but staff failed to notice that he was bleeding internally and he was diagnosed with bruised ribs and sent home with painkillers.
He later called 999 and was taken by paramedics from his home to Leicester Royal Infirmary, where he was pronounced dead.
Mrs Robinson, from Coalville, Leicester, broke down as she told the inquiry that Martin Yeates, former chief executive of Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust, had written to her in 2008 to apologise for her son’s treatment at Stafford Hospital.
In the letter, Mr Yeates suggested that the Robinson family would be able to “put this matter behind you” and “move on”, the inquiry heard.
Quoting the letter, Mrs Robinson said: “‘To enable you to put this matter behind you and move on’… I don’t know how on earth he thinks we can possibly do that.
“I can never ever put John’s death behind me, it will always be with me.”
Mrs Robinson said her son’s friends who went with him to Stafford Hospital were “disgusted” by the treatment he received.
She said one friend told her that Mr Moore-Robinson would have been discharged without painkillers if he had not demanded them on his behalf.
“He was very critical [of the hospital], very very critical”, Mrs Robinson said of the friend.
She added: “He was disgusted that they [the nurses] had said that he was going to be discharged and they hadn’t given him any painkillers or anything, so he went and asked for the painkillers because he felt that he needed at least something.”
The inquiry heard that when Mr Moore-Robinson was discharged from Stafford Hospital, he was sweating profusely, vomiting, and in too much pain to walk.
The inquiry, which will continue to hear oral submissions until the middle of next year, aims to build upon the work of an earlier independent investigation that disclosed a catalogue of failings at the trust, which also runs Cannock Chase Hospital.
Launched after a Healthcare Commission report published last year, the first inquiry found that appalling standards put patients at risk and between 400 and 1,200 more people died than would have been expected in a three-year period from 2005 to 2008.
Mr Francis said the public inquiry had received almost a million pages of documents to consider, adding: “In short, the task I have been set is truly formidable and complex.”