Chris Skidmore

Who should we blame for the Mid-Staffs scandal?

As the row over who knew what and when in the Mid-Staffordshire tragedy grows, it’s worth taking a close look at the data involved. When you consider the Mid-Staffs scandal across the timeline of the previous government, the findings present extremely uncomfortable evidence for which the Labour party must be held to account.

There are two key measures. These are the number of ‘expected deaths’, weighing up the age and condition of patients admitted to hospital, against the actual total number of deaths occurring. The difference between the two figures is known as ‘unexplained deaths’. We have this data for Mid Staffordshire dating back to 1996- and overall, it is this data which has been used to generate the headline figure of ‘1,200 patients dying unnecessarily’.

But what has been overlooked is the rate at which these deaths occurred. The first graph below shows the number of actual deaths at Mid-Staffs compared to the expected number of deaths, while the second demonstrates the total number of unexplained deaths across each year since 1997. The latter shows quite clearly that Mid-Staffs had clear problems long before they were picked up. In particular, what we can see clearly is that whereas in 1997, Mid-Staffs actually had eight fewer deaths than expected, by 2002 this had reversed with there being 120 excess ‘unexplained deaths’. That figure from 2002 rose higher still, to peak at 187 excess unexplained deaths in 2006.

unexplained deaths

For years, this damning mortality data should have rung alarm bells in the Department of Health, and yet there was nothing but silence. Instead, in February 2008, the trust was granted Foundation Trust status after supposedly meeting all of the department’s targets.

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