Four senior doctors who worked at Stafford Hospital during the height of the abuse scandal will not face disciplinary action it has been announced.
The General Medical Council (GMC), which prosecutes cases against medical professionals, had been investigating Dr John Gibson, Dr Valerie Suarez, Dr David Durrans and Dr Diarmuid Mulherin.
But the organisation says it has dropped the case after legal advisors said there was ‘no realistic prospect’ of success.
The decision comes despite widespread criticism when the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital failings was published in February that those responsible for the scandal have not been held to account.
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson says he understands people felt ‘badly let down’ over the fact very few people have been brought to book for failings in basic levels of care which were uncovered at the hospital but he added: “The law is clear, we can only prosecute a doctor if there is sufficient evidence of that individual’s wrongdoing.”
The organisation says it sought legal advice from Tom Kark QC, who was was the leading counsel to the Francis Inquiry which looked into the care failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Stafford Hospital.
Mr Dickson added: “Mr Kark advises us in the strongest terms that these cases cannot proceed to a hearing.
Following the extensive investigations we have undertaken – which Mr Kark acknowledges in his advice – there is not the evidence to establish either misconduct or impairment against any of the doctors.
“We know that many of those who saw and experienced the appalling care at the trust feel badly let down and frustrated that no-one is taking responsibility for what happened.
“However, the law is clear: we can only prosecute a doctor if there is sufficient evidence of that individual’s wrongdoing.”
Dr Suarez and Dr Gibson, both former medical directors, have retired from the trust while Dr Durrans, a consultant surgeon and Dr Mulherin, a consultant rheumatologist, are both still with the trust.
Chief Executive at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, Maggie Oldham, said: “We have cooperated fully with the General Medical Council during the investigations it has undertaken.
It would not be appropriate for us to comment on the decision it has announced today.
“There is clear, independent evidence that the standard of care at Stafford Hospital has improved greatly over the past few years and this is down to the hard work and dedication shown by all of our staff to their patients.”
Julie Bailey, 53, who set up the campaign group Cure the NHS after her mother Bella died at Stafford Hospital in 2007, spoke out against the decision though saying: “This decision just exposes the failure of the GMC’s processes and it’s further evidence that it isn’t fit for purpose.”
To date the GMC has investigated 44 doctors in relation to the hospital trust, concluding all but one of those cases - including the four investigations which have just been ended. In 16 cases it was determined there would be no further action, while in 24 cases, doctors were given advice including two who were also warned.
Another doctor had ‘accepted undertakings’ from the GMC, while another had also agreed undertakings and been issued with advice.
One doctor has been erased from the register.
Mr Dickson said the GMC had taken the unusual step of publishing its legal advice in the case of the latest four doctors, given the exceptionally high level of public interest in the Stafford Hospital case.
Both Dr Suarez and Dr Durrans gave evidence at the Francis Inquiry.
Dr Suarez told the hearing that Stafford Hospital had tried to recruit consultants but had found it ‘almost impossible’ due to a national shortage of A&E consultants and of personal problems in the department while Dr Durrans, said he was unable to explain why nothing was done.
In his review Robert Francis QC found a focus on financial performance over adequate staffing was a significant factor in the poor care at the hospital. He made 290 sweeping recommendations for healthcare regulators, providers and the government, leading to calls for a shake-up in the culture of the NHS.