Our system of scrutiny lets down patients and families and inflicts more agony

No one watching the heartfelt testimony of witnesses – patients, family members, and carers – at the opening sessions of the infected blood inquiry could fail to be moved. The inquiry will examine how and why thousands of people were given blood infected with hepatitis and HIV in the 1980s, the harm this caused, and how government then dealt with this avoidable tragedy and its consequences.

However, you have to ask: why do we need public inquiries like this one, and what do they achieve? Just as importantly, why do we have so many of them? In healthcare alone, alongside the infected blood scandal, there’s an inquiry into disgraced breast surgeon Ian Paterson; the recent Gosport Memorial Hospital panel report; and a trail of past cases too long to list in full (Bristol, Shipman, Mid-Staffs). The bald truth is that most public inquiries represent a double failure. First, the organisations and systems that should keep people safe and deal immediately and effectively with any problems with the quality of care have failed, often over many years. Second, the authorities that investigate complaints and problems – which in health include the General Medical Council, the Department of Health (DoH) and, in some cases, the police – also failed.

It is far from clear that these inquiries actually bring catharsis or resolution for those who have already suffered considerable harm

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