Managers and regulators of a hospital in England are being blamed for providing sub-standard treatment that may have contributed to the deaths of at least 400 patients, it was disclosed Tuesday.

A report by the Healthcare Commission into death rates at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, a publicly-funded hospital, found that receptionists were given responsibility for carrying out medical checks and patients were left screaming in pain for hours.

The report, the most damning yet compiled by the commission on an National Health Service hospital in England, raises serious questions about the monitoring and regulation of the trust, which was awarded elite foundation status and continued to receive positive annual reports despite its many problems.

The commission’s inquiry focused on higher than normal death rates in emergency care, in particular at Stafford Hospital. Setting out its findings yesterday, Heather Wood, the lead investigator, said that between 400 and 1,200 more people died than would have been expected over three years.

Families have described ‘Third World’ conditions at the hospital, with some patient’s drinking water from vases and others left for hours without medication.

The trust argued that death rate anomalies were due to problems with its recording of data and not problems with the quality of care for patients, the report said. The commission, however, found deficiencies at virtually every stage, including too few and inadequately trained staff, junior doctors left alone and dirty wards and bathrooms.

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