An independent enquiry is underway to investigate over 50 deaths in the maternity departments of scandal-hit University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. Government ministers ordered the investigation after allegations were made that there had been an attempted cover up of the failings by the NHS’s own regulatory body.
Furness Hospital maternity unit – the extent of the problems
Concerns were first raised after the deaths of at least eight women and babies at the Furness General Hospital maternity unit in Cumbria. Investigators have released official documents which show that they have looked at more than 200 deaths of women or babies which happened between 2004 and 2013. Of those 200, more than 50 deaths have raised very serious concerns among investigators and are being looked at in more detail. Some of the cases involve deaths of newborns, stillbirths, and mothers who died during or shortly after giving birth.
There are already at least 30 medical negligence compensation claims ongoing for the Trust from parents who have been bereaved and from patients who allege poor care in the Trust’s hospitals.
The investigation is being headed by former deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Bill Kirkup, who was previously involved in inquiries into Hillsborough and Saville. He has asked for evidence from former Health Ministers. Minutes from one of the meetings of the investigation panel show that reminder letters have had to be sent to former ministers who had not responded to initial requests.
Labour has come under fire for telling the Care Quality Commision (CQC) that its main role was one of restoring public faith in the NHS, as this could be interpreted as applying pressure on the CQC not to make hospital failings public knowledge. There has been growing criticism of the CQC, which has resulted in it announcing changes to the way it inspects, along with the introduction of Ofsted-style inspection ratings.
The investigation is scheduled to publish its findings in November, and has already spoken to former heads of both the CQC and the NHS.
Furness Hospital maternity unit problems – they are nothing new
As far back as spring 2010, the Trust’s own internal reviews raised concerns about their own maternity department. It highlighted poor standards of training for midwifery staff and said relationships between staff were “dysfunctional”. The internal report was not read by CQC inspectors, and when they looked at the Trust later that year, they passed it as “safe”.
Worst death rate in England
By the following year, the Trust’s mortality rate was the highest in England, and there were 600 extra deaths on top of what would have been expected.
In summer 2013, the CQC was accused of attempting to cover up one of its own internal reports which highlighted their failings in regulating the Morecambe Bay Trust. CQC officials strongly deny that there were plans to delete this report. By this point a CQC whistleblower had already said that he had been forced to resign before the general election in 2010 because he was being too “noisy” when telling the media about poor standards in the NHS.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, announced an independent investigation into the maternity and neonatal services at the Morecambe Bay Trust in September 2013. The investigation is being carried out in private, and will release its findings in November 2014.
Morecambe Bay Trust is suffering with ongoing staff retention problems and is looking to partner with another hospital up to 200 miles away with which it can share staff and provide stability.
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