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CQC Implicated In ‘Cover Up’ Within University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust

Legal Experts Welcome Public Inquiry And Call For Greater Transparency Throughout NHS


By Helen MacGregor

Legal experts at Irwin Mitchell say the Morecambe Bay NHS Trust scandal shows the need for fundamental change throughout the NHS to put transparency and patient safety as its core to prevent the same ‘cover up’ from being allowed to happen again.

In a damning report released today (19 June) The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is accused of suppressing an internal review that revealed critical weaknesses in its inspections, which may have cost lives under the care of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.

It was revealed that regulators deleted a review of their failure to act on concerns about the police investigating the deaths of at least eight mothers and babies. There were also accusations that midwives also colluded to hide errors.

The CQC has now apologised and announced plans for a more rigorous inspection regime and Ofsted-style ratings but medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell have welcomed the news that it will be subject to an independent Public Inquiry and say it is the only way to get answers and accountability.

Lisa Jordan, Head of the Medical Law and Patients Rights team at Irwin Mitchell, said: “We have been shocked and appalled at the details that have emerged implying there has been a cover-up by both maternity staff and the CQC to protect its reputation.

“It is beyond belief that the watchdog set up to ensure that care is of the highest quality and protect patient safety is now being implicated in this scandal and shows the need for a fundamental change at all levels to ensure this can never happen again.

“The Public Inquiry into the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust highlighted the need for a Duty of Candour and greater transparency throughout the NHS and sadly this latest scandal reflects similar findings. We welcome an additional Public Inquiry into Morecambe Bay NHS Trust as it is the only way to provide answers to the devastated families that are affected.”

An original internal review was ordered after questions were asked about why the CQC had given the NHS trust a clean bill of health in April 2010 – helping it to win elite “foundation” status later that year – despite serious concerns about the safety of its maternity services.

This was due to a number of serious incidents including the deaths of babies and mothers, and a warning by the CQC’s regional director of “systematic failures” in the hospital maternity services which could lead to further tragedy.

It was not until September 2011 that the trust was finally warned that the failings were so serious that it would be closed down without major changes. By then the trust had the highest mortality rate in the country, with 600 “excess deaths” in the previous four years.

James Titcombe, whose baby son Joshua died there in 2008 after staff failed to treat a simple infection, launched a campaign for answers with other families who lost loved ones and said the cover-up was “appalling”.

“If you cannot trust the health care regulators, the very people who are there to ensure minimum standards of safety, who can you trust?” he asked.

Lisa Jordan at Irwin Mitchell added: “We welcome the suggested changes to the CQC and suggested Ofsted style ratings. We hope this will mean it is in a greater position to properly investigate hospitals quickly and thoroughly to avoid further problems of this magnitude.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to medical negligence claims