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Progress in multi-agency review of alleged neglect cases at Stafford Hospital

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: December 03, 2013

By Belinda Hargreaves

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PROGRESS has been made by the multi-agency group reviewing cases of alleged neglect at Stafford Hospital which could have led to a patient’s death.

Detectives from Staffordshire Police’s major investigations department have now completed their initial scoping review of a significant volume of source material relating to deaths at the hospital between 2005 and 2009.

In total, 209 cases were identified for more detailed review and – to date – 36 have been examined by a joint team from Staffordshire Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Of these, one has already been investigated and prosecuted by the HSE, the death of Gillian Astbury in 2007, and one new HSE investigation has been launched. No further action will be taken in 34 cases.

Assistant Chief Constable Nick Baker, who is heading up the multi-agency work, said: “Our job is to thoroughly review the 209 cases to see if a criminal offence has potentially been committed which would warrant criminal investigation.

“Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) colleagues have given our investigators detailed prosecution guidance to help steer their work. So far, the joint team hasn’t uncovered any new or additional information which would warrant a criminal investigation in 34 out of 36 cases. However, two have clearly warranted further action under health and safety legislation and colleagues at the HSE are leading on this.”

Peter Galsworthy, HSE Head of Operations in the West Midlands, said: “HSE concluded that two cases considered so far by this review warranted formal investigation relating to health and safety regulations. The first, the death of Gillian Astbury, has resulted in an HSE prosecution. The Trust pleaded guilty and sentencing will take place next year. As a result of the multi-agency review we have recently started an investigation into a second death, that of Ivy Bunn, in November 2008."

Added ACC Baker: “Work continues to review the remaining 173 cases and it’s likely to take another six months to complete. In over 40 cases, officers are still gathering evidence or trying to trace patients’ relatives.

“This is a complex, large-scale review which needs to be detailed, thorough and sensitive. The major incident management system we are using to record information on the review currently holds 3,412 names, nearly 386 documents and has 451 actions completed or ongoing.”

“Detectives and staff working on the case have been specially trained and are knowledgeable about the very complex healthcare-related legal issues they’re dealing with.

“We’ve also got a huge responsibility to the 209 families affected by the work we are doing. We’ve written to all of those we can at this stage to keep them informed and to provide each family with a specially trained family liaison officer who they can turn to for advice or support.

“Given the complex nature of the case, and to ensure the force’s approach is rigorous and robust, Staffordshire’s Chief Constable, Mike Cunningham, has also requested that senior investigating officers from Merseyside Police are brought in to review our decision-making.”

The multi-agency group was established in February this year - following publication of the Francis Inquiry Report. Its remit is to share information so that a comprehensive review can be carried out into cases between 2005 and 2009 which were covered by the report. It includes senior representatives from the police, Crown Prosecution Service, HM Coroner’s Office, Health and Safety Executive, Care Quality Commission, General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner has also been represented at the group to provide independent oversight to ensure the way the review is conducted is open and transparent.

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