Nearly 100 bereaved relatives and victims of the Stafford NHS scandal are to be paid a total of more than £1 million following Britain’s largest ever group claim against a single hospital.
In total, 97 families of patients who died and victims who survived “appalling” standards of patient care will receive compensation payments, of up to £27,500.
Lawyers for the victims said the failings of Stafford Hospital left patients degraded and humiliated, and amounted to human rights’ abuses.
The trust has offered a total compensation settlements of £1.1 million, which the families are expected to accept, and apologies in each case. It did not accept the failings were breaches of human rights.
A public inquiry into the worst hospital scandal in more than a decade opens next week.
Last year, inspectors found that hundreds more patients died than would have been expected at the hospital between 2005 and 2008, amid “appalling” conditions.
Dehydrated patients were forced to drink out of flower vases, while decisions about treatment for Accident and Emergency patients were left to receptionists.
Up to 1,200 patients may have died needlessly over the period, as managers attempted to cut costs and hit targets.
The settlements for the group of 97 cases, including 84 deaths, covers failings as recent as this year, and dating back to 2002.
Among those to receive a payment is Heather Wilhelms, 55, who lost her mother, father, and husband at the hospital in the space of 18 months.
Her mother’s ovarian cancer was missed, while her father was sent home without treatment days before he died, after blood poisoning went undetected.
Nine months later, her husband died from lung disease in wards which his widow described as “filthy”. She told how her loved ones went to hospital for treatment and one by one, came out in their coffins.
The compensation payouts range from £1,000 to £27,500, with an average payment of just over £11,000 for bereaved relatives and those who survived failings in care.
Emma Jones, from lawyers Leigh Day & Co, which represented the families, said the action was believed to be unprecedented, with the 97 cases representing the largest group to be offered payouts by one hospital.
She said lawyers argued that the hospital’s failings were so basic and substantial, that they amounted to breaches of patients’ fundamental human rights.
Miss Jones said: “This was about basic neglect; food and drink placed out of reach, buzzers unanswered, people left after soiling themselves.
“In some cases we argued that the poor treatment caused the deaths – in many, the argument was that basic fundamental human rights were being denied – that people were being degraded, neglected and humiliated.”
Often, when elderly people die following failings in hospital, compensation is low, especially if no spouse is bereaved.
The lawyers said the case was significant because the arguments had centred on how badly patients had been treated, rather than proving their deaths had been hastened.
“For the relatives it was never about the money but more a recognition that their mum, or dad should never have been left to suffer in that way,” said Miss Jones.
She added: “We don’t know of any bigger group claim against any one hospital, we think this is unprecedented.”
The Labour Government refused to hold a public inquiry to find out what went wrong, and to prevent a repeat of the scandal.
Since taking power, the Coalition Government has ordered such an investigation – one of the key demands of The Sunday Telegraph’s Heal Our Hospitals campaign – which is due to start taking evidence next week.
On Saturday an inspection report revealed that the hospital is still failing to meet most basic standards of patient care.
The Care Quality Commission said it had concerns about the care and welfare of patients, and respect shown to them, its safeguarding of patients from abuse, the management of medicines, the safety of premises and equipment, staffing and complaints.
Inspectors said the trust had made progress, and that some of the concerns involved changes which would take time to “bed in”.
Last week it emerged that the trust had paid a locum Accident & Emergency doctor more than £5,000 to work a single 24-hour shift, in response to a sudden staffing crisis.
Julie Bailey, who founded local campaign group Cure the NHS as a response to the standard of care given by the hospital to her own mother, who died in 2007, said: “The size of the group exposes the scale of this crisis; it is an absolute disgrace that in the 21st century, the most vulnerable people were treated so appallingly.”
She added: “For relatives who have gone through this, no amount of money can ever compensate for what happened to their loved ones.”
Mrs Bailey said there were many more relatives and victims who had never received a penny. “Every day, someone comes to me who has never even spoken before about what they went through.
“There are so many people suffering as a result of this scandal, and no one has been held to account for what we are going through.”
Antony Sumara, Chief Executive of Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As always, I offer our sincerest apologies to the families concerned, for the distress caused by the poor care their relatives received at our Trust in the past.
“We have made a lot of progress over the last year in improving the care for our patients and will continue to focus our efforts on building on these improvements and making sure that they are sustained.”