Patient safety

16.05.18

NMC ignored families and police evidence in ‘incompetent’ handling of Morecambe Bay scandal

The conduct of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) during the Morecambe Bay scandal did not act on concerns raised against midwives suspected of providing dangerously poor care, a major report commissioned by Jeremy Hunt has argued.

In a new 80-page review from the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), it was revealed that the NMC failed to react in time to concerns of families and police, leading to the “avoidable deaths” of 11 children and one mother between 2004 and 2013 at the Furness General Hospital in University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS FT.

Today’s report comes after the head of the NMC Jackie Smith announced yesterday that she will be stepping down from the organisation at the end of July.

The scandal led to a highly-publicised government report in 2015 that claimed there was a “lethal mix” of failures at the hospital that led to as many as 12 preventable deaths.

Delayed investigations, poor record-keeping, and mishandling of grieving families were cited as reasons that led to the major scandal of midwives who were deemed to have ‘covered up’ the poor general practice when performing duties at the hospital.

The report claimed that Cumbria Police “were really concerned” that midwives who had cases against them were still practicing at the hospital. It went on to say the NMC “took no action on this and we do not know whether it was sent to their external lawyers either at the time or when Cumbria Police re-sent the information a year later.”

“In our view there was scope for the NMC to investigate the wider fitness to practise of the midwives concerned and the police expected them to do so at the time the information was sent,” the review argued.

The NMC was also criticised for ignoring information and concerns raised by families, as well as failing to place due weight on the evidence they provided and not being transparent enough.

PSA’s chief executive, Harry Cayton, said that what happened at Furness General Hospital “remains shocking,” with the report now shedding light on the true extent of the NMC’s “inadequate” response.

“Although the NMC has made good progress with its technical handling of complaints and concerns, there remain cultural problems which it must remedy in order for the public to have confidence in its ability to protect them from harm,” noted Cayton.

NMC ‘truly sorry’

NMC’s outgoing chief executive Smith said she was “truly sorry” for the scandal, adding: “We take the findings of this review extremely seriously and we’re committed to improving the way we communicate with families, witnesses and all those involved in the fitness to practise process.

“Since 2014 we’ve made significant changes to improve the way we work and as the report recognises, we’re now a very different organisation. The changes we’ve made puts vulnerable witnesses and families affected by failings in care at the heart of our work. But we know that there is much more to do.”

Philip Graf, chair of the NMC, welcomed the review and promised to act on the lessons learned, as well as work closely with the PSA and other regulators to take forward these recommendations.

 Image Credit:  Peter Byrne/PA Archive/PA Images

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