The 5 Worst and Most Devastating NHS Scandals of all time

Mid Staffordshire / Stafford Hospital scandal

In recent years, one of the highest-profile NHS scandals has been that of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust and Stafford Hospital, which experienced very poor care and high mortality rates amongst patients during the late 2000s. Amongst emergency admissions to Stafford Hospital, mortality rates were unusually high, and in 2007 Julie Bailey started the Cure the NHS campaign after her own mother died at the hospital. She immediately encountered a defensive attitude from the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, which denied any responsibility.

When the Healthcare Commission finally launched an investigation into Stafford Hospital, the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust failed to provide an adequate explanation to the Healthcare Commission and a full-scale investigation was launched in 2008. A year later the report criticised the Foundation Trust heavily and suggested that between 400 and 1,200 deaths could have been avoided between 2005 and 2008 had the care and conditions at the hospital been of an acceptable standard. The trust’s chief executive, Martin Yeates, was suspended with full pay and subsequently dismissed with a huge financial pay-off, despite refusing to provide any evidence at the enquiries.

As a result of the scandal, compensation payments were made to the affected families, averaging £11,000. The public enquiry into the failure of the trust and hospital made 290 recommendations and highlighted a number of shocking revelations including patients being left to sit in their own urine and being forced to drink from flower vases due to not being given adequate liquids.

Bristol heart scandal

In the 1990s, it was found that a number of babies at the Bristol Royal Infirmary died after cardiac surgery at a rate far higher than would otherwise be reasonably expected. An enquiry was launched which found that problems including staff shortages, a lack of leadership, and old boys’ culture among doctors and an attitude of relaxation and secrecy with regards to safety and doctors’ performance had led to the failings.

As a result of the Bristol heart scandal, cardiac surgeons led efforts to ensure that more data on the performance of doctors and hospitals was published, giving additional transparency to medical procedures.

Alder Hey organs scandal

The Alder Hey organs scandal came about after a public enquiry in 1999 in which it was found that in the period between 1988 and 1995, organs from around 850 deceased and stillborn children were stored at the hospital without the consent or knowledge of the parents.

The scandal resulted in the formation of the Human Tissue Act 2004, which included new legislation on the handling and storage of human tissues and also led to the formation of the Human Tissue Authority. It was found that the retention of organs was ordered by Dutch pathologist Dick van Velzen, who was later permanently banned from practising medicine in the United Kingdom.

Ely Hospital scandal

Ely Hospital was established in 1862 as an Industrial School for Orphaned Children before becoming a workhouse and later a psychiatric hospital. An enquiry was launched by Brian Abel-Smith following reports of the abuse of patients in 1969, following a News of the World article in August 1967 which alleged that patients were ill-treated and subject to petty pilfering.

Until the scandal came to light, the abhorrent treatment of mentally ill patients was seen as acceptable by many in the medical world, with the institutions being isolated and inward looking. As a result of the scandal, the 1971 Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped whitepaper was released, leading to improved care for the mentally ill.

Tainted Blood scandal

In the 1970s and 1980s, tens of thousands of people were given contaminated blood during blood transfusion operations, leading to thousands of infections, serious diseases and deaths. Lord Robert Winston later went on to describe it as “the worst treatment disaster in the history of the National Health Service”.

Thousands of people were infected with life-threatening viruses including HIV and Hepatitis C, with more than 2,000 people dying as a result and a number of victims and their families still seeking justice and retribution. The Contaminated Blood Campaign claims that some people were deliberately targeted and that such an enormous and widespread case of medical negligence could not possibly have been an accident.

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