Two former Labour health ministers have attacked GPs for failing to question standards of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, in an inquiry into one of the most shocking patient safety scandals in recent history.
Giving evidence to the public inquiry into failings at the trust, former health secretary Andy Burnham and former health minister Ben Bradshaw said they were ‘puzzled’ at the failure of GPs to flag up fears about care at the Stafford General Hospital.
The hospital was at the centre of an abuse scandal in which patients were ‘routinely neglected’ and between 400 and 1,200 more patients died than expected between 2005 and 2008.
The ministers also raised concerns that the Government’s health reforms would result in hospitals ‘dominating’ GPs, making it even more likely that abuses will go unnoticed.
Mr Burnham, a junior minister at the DH at the time of the scandal, told the inquiry: ‘I remain very puzzled at why local there wasn’t noise about this trust and why GPs were not raising concerns. I mean, I don’t know how many GPs the inquiry’s heard from, but I understand that there wasn’t much alarm being raised by the clinical community.’
Mr Bradshaw, health minister between 2007 and 2009, added: ‘From my experience and the specific experience of Mid Staffordshire, the GPs did not pick up sufficiently… on the appalling quality of care at this hospital. I think the new world of letting go [of control] completely from the centre, I’m afraid that could increase the potential that things are missed.’
The MPs also voiced fears that the coalition’s shift to GP commissioning would damage patient safety, arguing that smaller clinical commissioning groups would be vulnerable than PCTs to being ‘dominated’ by large foundation trusts.
In his written evidence, Mr Burnham said: ‘PCTs were not perfect by any means, but they had the scale and profile necessary for monitoring an organisation employing around 3,000 people; it was a balanced partnership.’
‘If we move to GP commissioning, we will be in a situation where it is a small number of GPs versus a large hospital. The hospital, being very powerful, shifts the balance of power back to the trust and they can dominate GPs.’