From cafe owner to campaigner: Julie Bailey's journey

Dominic Hughes visits Julie's cafe in the centre of Stafford, which became the campaign hub

A key report that is likely to have a huge impact on the NHS in England will be published later.

A public inquiry led by Robert Francis QC has been looking into how those responsible for overseeing the NHS - the national regulators, the local health authority and the hospital board - failed to prevent the terrible events at Stafford Hospital, where hundreds of people died unnecessarily as a result of poor care.

But the fact that the disaster at Stafford Hospital was exposed in the first place is in large part down to a campaign led by one woman.

Julie Bailey is a cafe owner from Stafford, whose mother Bella died in the hospital in terrible circumstances about five years ago.

Start Quote

Christine Dalziel

She's worked so hard and then for people to threaten her with violence... it's just unbelievable”

End Quote Christine Dalziel Cure the NHS campaigner

Originally motivated by what she witnessed in the ward her mother was on, Julie started what has become a formidable campaign.

Local campaign, national issue

With the help of local people who had similar experiences, Julie started Cure The NHS, a group dedicated to making the health service a safer and more caring environment.

Over the past five years she has been contacted by people from across the UK who have also seen family members suffer in NHS hospitals.

She has gone from cafe owner to full-time campaigner.

"It's been an incredible journey to be honest, but I would never have been able to do it without the support of the group.

"We're really close-knit, and it's just being able to share the same experiences that has knitted us together and we can help each other.

"It's been very hard, but at the end of it we know the more we do, the more we push the NHS to make it safer, the less our loved ones died in vain."

Threats of violence

Christine Dalziel joined Julie after her husband George died while being treated at Stafford hospital in 2007.

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Antony Sumara

What you need are the Julie Baileys of the world”

End Quote Antony Sumara Former chief executive, Stafford Hospital

But Christine says there has been opposition to the campaign from within the town - some of it directed at Julie Bailey herself.

"I think she's wonderful, the way she's able to speak on television, at conferences, wherever she goes.

"She's worked so hard and then for people to threaten her with violence - things that she's read on the internet - it's just unbelievable.

"Because these people just don't realise that all we're doing is trying to prevent them from having to go through the same thing that we went through."

Staff at Stafford Hospital say things have greatly improved in the past five years - although Cure the NHS is still to be convinced.

A recent story of poor standards of care at the hospital will have done nothing to change their view.

But Antony Sumara, a former chief executive of the Mid Staffordshire trust which runs Stafford Hospital, says the group has performed a vital role.

"What you need are the Julie Baileys of the world.

"It doesn't matter how close you get to people like that from an authority point of view, she will hold you to account.

"She will scream and shout at you if you do things wrong.

"Most (health service) managers are scared of listening to people like that."

An end in sight?

Julie Bailey says her life has been on hold for five years, juggling a business and a high-profile campaign.

But now she feels an end could be in sight.

Julie Bailey's cafe Julie's cafe in the centre of Stafford became the campaign hub

"This will be the biggest report in the history of the NHS and this will never happen again.

"This examination of the NHS will never have to happen again, because this will be the end, this will be a safer NHS."

So after five years, I ask Julie if that would mean the end of her campaign?

"I really hope so. I hope we can put our goal to bed.

"Our goal at the beginning was to ensure safe care throughout the NHS."

Whatever comes from the Francis Inquiry, Julie has helped drive patient safety and dignity up the NHS agenda.

That in itself has been a notable success.

But securing a fundamental shift in culture in those parts of the NHS that are still failing patients would be a real achievement.

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