A former chief nurse at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust has blamed frontline staff for chronic shortages of nurses.

Janice Harry, aged 60, gave evidence to a Nursing and Midwifery Council fitness to practise hearing today. She distanced herself from problems at the trust and denied having operational responsibility for either the staffing level, or care provided by nurses, on the hospital wards.

She told the NMC panel that problems relating to short staffing were never raised with her. She said controversial plans to reorganise the hospital’s wards and reduce its ratio of nurses to healthcare assistants were implemented after she left the trust in June 2006.

Ms Harry said: “During my time at the trust no service was delivered with the sole purpose of making savings.”

It was up to staff, she suggested, to do the paperwork to allow job vacancies to be advertised but “they didn’t like doing it”.

Describing herself as a non-operational manager, Ms Harry told the hearing: “When I was at the trust I recruited staff rather than lost staff.

“I had perhaps misplaced confidence in some of the senior staff on those wards, thinking they were doing things that perhaps they were not.”

She said as director of nursing she had “strategic responsibility”, but did not line manage ward nurses. This role instead rested with the trust’s separate clinical directorates.

Ms Harry suggested responsibility for staffing and skill mix was also the responsibility of the clinical directorates, adding: “If staffing levels were what they were it was never raised with me.”

She said the trust board had no reason to suspect the manpower figures were inaccurate.

Questioned by NMC case presenter William Davis as to whether she accepted an overall responsibiltiy on the trust board, Ms Harry said: “There was a strategic responsibility. Operationally you have to devolve it.

“Nurses are responsible for their own activities and practice. I am not able to comment on an individual’s clinical practice unless it was overwhelmingly obvious what someone was doing was wrong and detrimental to the care of the patient.”

She claimed Mid Staffordshire “had a robust system for reporting incidents” but that it would be the clinical directorate’s job to take action.

“I would not as a matter of course accept incident forms,” she said.

Ms Harry joined the trust in 1998 and worked as chief nurse on the board until she left in June 2006.

She denied allegations she shouted at nurses or used inappropriate language, saying she was “quietly spoken but firm”/

She denied claims staff were left in tears after a bed management meeting but accepted she may have used words to the effect of “I prefer to be brought solutions rather than problems”.

Ms Harry has now retired as a nurse and denies misconduct.

The case continues.