Stafford Hospital to be prosecuted
A scandal-hit NHS trust is to be prosecuted over a patient who died after entering a diabetic coma.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said there was enough evidence to bring criminal proceedings against Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust over the death of 66-year-old Gillian Astbury in 2007. The case's first hearing will be at Stafford Magistrates' Court on October 9.
It follows an investigation launched earlier this year by the HSE into Mrs Astbury's death following the conclusion of the Francis Inquiry into events at Stafford Hospital.
An inquest into Mrs Astbury's death recorded a narrative verdict but said a failure to administer insulin amounted to a gross failure to provide basic care.
Peter Galsworthy, HSE head of operations in the West Midlands, said: "We have concluded our investigation into the death of Gillian Astbury at Stafford Hospital and have decided there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to bring criminal proceedings in this case. HSE will be charging Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Gillian Astbury died on April 11 2007, of diabetic ketoacidosis, when she was an inpatient at the hospital. The immediate cause of death was the failure to administer insulin to a known diabetic patient. Our case alleges that the trust failed to devise, implement or properly manage structured and effective systems of communication for sharing patient information, including in relation to shift handovers and record-keeping."
Police investigated after Mrs Astbury's death, but the Crown Prosecution Service ruled there was insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution. Last month, the Nursing and Midwifery Council found two nurses guilty of misconduct for failing to spot Ms Astbury was diabetic. It ruled that Ann King and Jeannette Coulson had failed to look at or update Mrs Astbury's records and failed to carry out blood tests.
Mid Staffordshire was the focus of one of the biggest scandals in the history of the NHS when hundreds more people died than would normally be expected at Stafford Hospital. The Francis Inquiry highlighted the "appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people", with some patients left lying in their own faeces for days, forced to drink water from vases or given the wrong medication. That inquiry followed a 2009 investigation by the Healthcare Commission which found between 400 and 1,200 more people died at Stafford Hospital than would have been expected.
Mrs Astbury's partner, Ron Street, said earlier this year he was pleased the HSE was investigating her death. He said: "I'm not a vindictive man. I don't necessarily want to see people behind bars, but what I do want to see is those who are found to be guilty or complicit in causing this situation to be called to account." He added: "Unless people are seen to be held to account for such long-running negligence, no message is going to be sent out across the NHS to other trusts who may be equally responsible."
Last month, administrators recommended that the hospital should be stripped of key services and the trust dissolved. The trust, which also runs Cannock Chase Hospital, went into administration in April after a report concluded it was not "clinically or financially sustainable". It is regarded as no longer viable and has severe financial problems - earning around £150 million a year but costing about £170 million to run.
Maggie Oldham, chief executive at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We accept the findings of the Health and Safety Executive's investigation. Our thoughts remain with the family of Gillian Astbury and we apologise for the appalling care Ms Astbury received at our hospital in April 2007. Ms Astbury's death was reported as a serious untoward incident at the time and a full investigation into her care and treatment was carried out. The recommendations from that investigation were implemented. Actions included raising staff awareness about the care of diabetic patients and improving the information system for nurse handovers. In 2010 we reviewed Ms Astbury's dreadful care and, as a result, disciplinary action was taken."
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