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Troubled Morecambe Bay removed from special measures

The long-troubled University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS FT will be taken out of special measures after an inspection by the CQC identified sufficient improvements at the provider.

The trust entered special measures in June 2014 after the CQC voiced concerns over its safety levels and leadership, but its problems are deep-rooted.

A 2012 investigation, for example, raised a number of concerns about the provision of emergency services at the provider’s Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Furness General Hospital.

An inquiry led by Dr Bill Kirkup found a “lethal mix” of failures at the FT that led to the unnecessary deaths of 11 babies and one mother. The investigation into the deaths at Furness General Hospital in Barrow between 2004 and 2013 found maternity services to be “seriously dysfunctional” and beset by a culture of denial, collusion and incompetence.

But despite serious incidents 11 years ago, and a series of five separate events in 2008, it was not until 2011 that standards of care on the unit gained wider attention.

Later, in March, health secretary Jeremy Hunt backed the establishment of an independent patient safety investigation unit to quickly probe serious medical incidents in response to the Morecambe Bay report. A few months later, trust chair John Cowdall decided to step down.

But following the CQC’s latest inspection in July, Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals, said enough steps had been taken to strengthen the way the trust is run and the way it manages patient safety and staffing levels.

As well as looking into recommendations by Dr Kirkup, CQC inspectors investigated the action taken by the trust in response to Public Health England’s review of its breast screening service.

But although the trust is no longer in such deep trouble, its problematic Furness General Hospital and Royal Lancaster Infirmary were still rated as ‘requires improvement’. Westmorland General Hospital, however, was rated as ‘good’.

Professor Richards continued: “I am satisfied that [the trust] has made steady progress to meet the recommendations set by Dr Bill Kirkup following his investigation into maternity services, with maternity and paediatric services nor working better together.

“However, there is still work for the trust to do to ensure that people using its service consistently receive good quality care and treatment. The trust still has to make significant and sustainable improvements in maternity services. I have made it clear that they must continue to develop a culture of strong team working and continuous learning in order to maintain the progress seen to date.”

Monitor will continue to provide support and help the provider develop relationships with other credible maternity units, after which the CQC intends to undertake an early review of maternity services.

“The trust knows that it still has some complex staffing issues to address with regards to professional relationships and culture within some teams. The work underway to tackle these important issues must continue,” he added.

England’s hospital inspectorate set out seven areas for further improvements – a long way from the 33 recommendations in its earlier report – including ensuring all premises are suitable for purpose and that staff are sufficiently qualified, trained and versed in policies around medicine management.

Jackie Daniel, the trust’s chief executive, said the provider was very pleased with the CQC’s latest findings – a “testament to the hard work and commitment of an incredibly loyal workforce”.

“Over the last year we have seen many successes, including staff and teams shortlisted for, and winning, national awards,” she said.

“But we mustn’t be complacent. We still have a lot of work to do to ensure we provide consistently high standards of care across all of our services. We must continue to seek out every opportunity to make improvements to achieve our ambition of being an ‘outstanding’ trust.”

(Top image c. Peter Byrne/PA Wire)


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