Baby deaths inquiry: NHS criticism expected
An investigation into Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust has focused on the care given at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria between 2004 and 2013. The independent inquiry was ordered by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt 18 months ago following several damning reports. It also came after it emerged a number of families were taking legal action over the care provided.
The investigation has been led by Dr Bill Kirkup, a former senior Department of Health official. As well as criticising the hospital, he is also expected to focus on the role of regulators. The problems began coming to light five years ago with reports that there were serious problems at the hospital’s maternity unit. Police were called in after an inquest in June 2011 into the death of newborn Joshua Titcombe, of Dalton, Cumbria. It ruled Joshua had died of natural causes in 2008 but midwives had repeatedly missed opportunities to spot and treat a serious infection.
The trust itself commissioned an internal report, which was produced in early 2010 by nursing expert Dame Pauline Fielding. It said the hospital’s maternity services were “dysfunctional” and was critical of the relationships between doctors, midwives and managers. But the trust was accused of suppressing these findings, as the report was not published until a year later.
James Titcombe’s son Joshua was nine days old when he died of sepsis. He was born at Furness General Hospital and was transferred to two other hospitals before dying in Newcastle. They asked repeatedly if Joshua should have antibiotics and we were told ‘No, he didn’t [need any]’,” said Mr Titcombe. “He was wheezing, and he wasn’t feeding properly, and my wife called the emergency bell because he was grunting. Every time, we were told Joshua was fine and that there was nothing to worry about. At no stage was a doctor ever called.” Afterwards Joshua’s progress chart went missing, never to re-emerge, and the coroner later said there was a suspicion that it may have been deliberately destroyed.
The Care Quality Commission has also been criticised for its oversight of the trust. Its inspectors concluded the maternity unit was up to standard in 2010 and a year later it awarded the trust foundation status, reserved for elite hospitals. A review by Grant Thornton consultants in 2013 suggested the CQC may well have “deliberately covered-up” what it knew about its failings in regulating the hospital – an internal report had been carried out in 2011 but was not published. The regional health authority and Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman have also been criticised for not taking action earlier. More than 100 people have been interviewed by investigators during the inquiry, including families who have been cared for, staff at the hospital and senior officials in the health service.
Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashtons Legal, comments: “This is a terrible sequence of events which involves conflict between staff and numerous failures leading to deaths which were not only tragic but avoidable. In addition the families who have been affected appear to have had to fight for any sort of justice and there appears to have been numerous cover ups and failings by the Departments and Agencies who are supposedly monitoring and assessing these Trust. It will cost the NHS far more in payment of legal fees and compensation than if it had dealt with the issues earlier and rectified the situation”.
How can we help?
If you have an enquiry or you would like to find out more about our services, why not contact us?