Health experts have raised "grave concerns" about the delay of the report of the public inquiry into the serious failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
The Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM) said that delaying the publication of the report until January was a "cruel blow" to the families of the people who died at the trust.
Former IHM president Professor Brian Edwards said victims' families need answers, adding that three years is "too long to wait".
Inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC said the final report will be delivered to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in early January. The report was previously due to be handed in on October 15.
Prof Edwards, former president and special advisor to the IHM, said: "The IHM is appalled and frustrated that once again, the long-awaited Francis Report has been delayed, this time until January 2013.
"The NHS in Stafford has let patients and their families down badly. It is a very cruel blow that the agony of victims' loved ones has been further prolonged and justice has once more been adjourned. What happened in Mid Staffordshire was wholly unacceptable and it is absolutely vital that crucial lessons are learnt from this tragedy to ensure that it never, ever happens again.
"The NHS needs fixing and the findings and conclusions of the Francis Report are the first steps to mending it. This means getting to the very core of the problems and facing some uncomfortable truths. Ministers need to get their heads out of the sand. NHS managers and other health professions need to digest the Francis Report's findings and respond quickly.
"Victims' families need answers. Three years is too long to wait for answers and painful beyond belief for everyone affected. Stafford Hospital itself needs the answers so that it can work to recover the trust of its patients and their families."
The £11 million inquiry, which was commissioned in 2010, is examining what went wrong at the trust between January 2005 and March 2009.
Announcing the delay last week, Mr Francis said: "The inquiry has heard a huge amount of evidence from many witnesses and organisations, and has gathered information from a number of seminars and visits. In addition, I need to complete a number of formal processes, to ensure any conclusions and recommendations I produce are fair and constructive. Pulling this together into the final report is a complex and sensitive process."