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Morecambe Bay NHS negligence inquiry: Maternity failures lead to death of 11 babies

Morecambe Bay NHS negligence inquiry: Maternity failures lead to death of 11 babies

An independent inquiry into the practices of doctors and midwives at the maternity unit at Furness General Hospital has found “failings at every level”. Chair of the investigation into care at Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Bill Kirkup, said he had uncovered a “distressing chain of events” that had led to avoidable harm and deaths.

Clinical competence of hospital staff fell below standard for a safe, effective service

Former Department of Health official Dr Bill Kirkup has headed an inquiry into the standard of care provided in the maternity unit at Furness General Hospital and has delivered a damming report. In investigating a succession of serious incidents between 2004 and 2013, Dr Kirkup has reported finding a series of failures at every level, from those regulating and monitoring the trust, to those working in the unit.

In the time period investigated, there were 20 significant or major incidents, with three maternal deaths and 16 babies who died either at or shortly after birth, in what Dr Kirkup has described as a “lethal mix” of failures, facilitated by “seriously dysfunctional” relationships between midwives and doctors. He concluded that of those incidents, with different, improved clinical care, the deaths of eleven babies and one mother could reasonably have been expected to be avoided.

The problems in the unit were brought to light after bereaved families campaigned for more information and investigation into the deaths of loved ones, with due attention finally paid after the unit saw a cluster of five mother-and-baby deaths in just one year in 2008.

The findings of the report conclude that dominant midwives were undertaking an “over-zealous” pursuit of natural childbirth “at all costs”, which resulted in unsafe care. There were failures of risk assessment, and clinical competence in a proportion of staff fell significantly below the standard for a safe, effective service.

Midwives “distorted the truth”

The report also concluded that there was a “them and us” culture, with poor working relationships between midwives, obstetrician and pediatricians. Arguably of most concern is the conclusion that midwives “distorted the truth”, with suggestions that those on the unit had labelled themselves “the musketeers” due to their all-for-one approach. Several midwives stand accused of destroying clinical records, with Dr Kirkup concluding that there was probably a “conscious suppression” of an internal report about the problems.

The report indicates that hospital bosses were aware of strained relations in the unit causing problems in 2009 but the board was focusing its attention on gaining foundation trust status.

A prominent and diligent campaigner, James Titcombe – a father who lost his nine-day old son Joshua as a result of failings in the unit – said:

“These were people protecting themselves and they lost track of mothers and babies. It’s tragic. We talk about missed opportunities in this report — that, for me, means not having a six-year-old boy. It’s very hard to forgive this kind of deliberate cover-up when it’s had such a big impact”.

Dr Kirkup has indicated that he will hand his report to Cumbria Police who are currently investigating the practices at the unit.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has described the situation as a “second Mid-Staffs”, with the report showing that the scandal at Stafford Hospital was not a “one-off” for the NHS. Speaking to the House of Commons, Mr Hunt apologised to families affected by hospital failings, paying tribute to their “long and bitter search for the truth”. He said:

“In both cases, perceived pressure to achieve foundation trust status led to poor care being ignored and patient safety being compromised. In both cases, families faced delay, denial and obfuscation in their search for the truth. To those who thought Mid Staffs was a local, one off failure, today’s report will give serious case for reflection.”

Medical negligence solicitor at IBB, Laura Thompson comments:

“When the NHS was set up in 1948, the intention was to provide high quality healthcare for everyone. This fundamental purpose is enshrined in the NHS Constitution and the pledges made to us all, as patients, go above and beyond our legal rights. The happenings at Morecombe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, as well as the well-known failings at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, show that in some areas those principles have been lost along the way.”

How to obtain compensation for negligence during childbirth and maternity treatment

You are entitled to expect a certain standard of treatment from those providing medical assistance to you. If this treatment falls below standard you may be entitled to recover the cost of the private medical treatment needed to correct the failings on the part of those originally treating you. Our goal at IBB Solicitors is to obtain justice for victims of the negligence by others, by securing compensation that reflects their pain and suffering, as well as related financial losses including loss of earnings, treatment costs and specialist care costs.

If you want to enquire about making a clinical negligence claim, please contact a member of our team on 01895 207835 or 01895 207295. Alternatively, you can send an email with your name and contact information and brief details as to the nature of the accident/clinical negligence and the injuries sustained to malcolm.underhill@ibblaw.co.uk and one of our team will be able to help you.