For those working in UK nursing jobs, the name of Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust is sure to be one that is extremely familiar.
In the last few years, the organisation has been at the centre of considerable controversy, attracting negative headlines following Robert Francis QC's public inquiry into high mortality rates at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009.
Subsequent findings revealed a below-par management culture and numerous instances of patient care falling well below acceptable levels, prompting fundamental reforms of the entire British healthcare system. New laws have been enacted to bring greater transparency and candour to NHS services, while new inspection regimes and a renewed commitment to safe staffing levels have also been announced.
However, the fanfare and publicity surrounding the fallout has also served to somewhat obscure the improvements that have been taking place at the trust at the centre of it all, according to nursing staff member Andrew Astley.
Mr Astley, a Medacs Healthcare-affiliated nurse who currently works at the Trust, believes its reputation does not fairly reflect the reality of what professional life is really like at Mid-Staffordshire, or the culture of learning and progress that now prevails.
Learning from past mistakes
According to Mr Astley, the trust has been extremely proactive about making sure the failings of the past are never repeated.
He said: "Since we've had a lot of bad press, and obviously the Francis Report has gone in, it does seem like a lot of learning has taken place from that. They've been really good at utilising the suggestions and recommendations that have been made and turned that around to improve the care that they give."
Mr Astley explained that it is "hugely evident" that particular attention has been paid to addressing staffing issues, ensuring the hospitals are now always run with the full complement of workers, while the filing of necessary paperwork and the handling of errors has become much more effective.
"Things are dealt with at the time, rather than being brushed under the carpet, and things are a lot more open and transparent than they once were," he said.
Indeed, many of the lessons learned from the past problems at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust are now benefiting the NHS as a whole, with many of the recommendations of the Francis Report being applied across the entire healthcare system.
Mr Astley, who has worked for two NHS trusts, said both "seem to have taken on board the learning experiences from that, so generally it's a lot more positive than it was a couple of years ago. You can see that environments now tend to be a lot better staffed, and things seem to be dealt with more quickly than they previously would have been".
Brushing away the bad reputation
Recent online mortality data from the Dr Foster Hospital Guide showed that the trust's hospital standardised mortality ratio is now the best in the region and ranked among the top 15 in the country, suggesting many of the issues that led to earlier scandals have now been resolved.
In Mr Astley's view, the main challenge for the trust will now be to maintain its improved standards and ultimately reverse the negative perception it has developed in the eyes of many.
Confessing his own initial reservations about working with the controversy-stricken organisation, Mr Astley said his view has been completely changed by the experience of actually working there.
"99 per cent of the people I work with do seem to be really keen and motivated to want to improve things and change things ... They're working really hard, they're working to the best of their ability, they're doing the best they can with the resources they've got."
He added that in future, he hopes other medical workers will come to see Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust as an attractive place to work once again.
"It won't be a case of thinking 'I'm not going to Stafford', it'll be a case of 'Stafford is probably actually a safer place to be now than other places'."
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