PATIENTS will be at the heart of the Care Quality Commission's inspection of Stafford Hospital, the CQC's head of hospital inspections has told the Newsletter.
Tim Cooper said the CQC team had chosen to start their inspection with a meet-the-public session so that local people would be the foundation of the process.
"It was designed as a listening event for people to tell their story, away from the hospital on neutral ground," he said.
The format of small discussion groups was chosen so that people could speak freely, instead of possibly feeling intimidated at the thought of a large audience, or shy about discussing medical details, he added.
Meanwhile the CQC had assembled a "hand-picked" team of experts to visit Stafford, because of the "sensitivity" of the issues the hospital had faced.
Mr Cooper, a radiologist, led a team of national improvement experts for NHS England before joining the CQC and is also a former director of the National Cancer Action Team and national lead for radiotherapy.
The clinical chief inspector on the Stafford team is consultant ENT surgeon Andy Welch, medical director of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospital, one of the top 10 health trusts in the country.
And the nursing inspector is James Hill, head of nursing at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, London.
"There is no-one on the team who hasn't been personally invited because of their expertise," Mr Cooper said.
"We recognise the sensitivities around Stafford and we want the best people on the team."
He said Stafford appeared to be facing the same problems as the rest of the NHS in recruiting and retaining staff - worsened by its past history.
"The NHS generally is struggling to recruit and this trust is no different to any other. I have been to many like it," Mr Cooper said.
"But when you add to that fact the previous reputation of Stafford, the proposed changes to services and the planned dissolution of the trust, it means new recruits are coming into something they are not quite certain about.
"And if they have three or four job offers to consider, Stafford may not be top of their list."
He said the aim of the inspection was to ensure hospital services would remain safe.
He said a normal CQC inspection took eight to 10 weeks, but the CQC was working to a much tighter timescale because of the staffing issues facing Stafford.
"We can't give an exact date, but it will be a very few weeks- though our first concern is to make sure we get it right," Mr Cooper said.