A new independent inquiry has begun into up to 17,000 cases of historic patient safety failures at the former Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust.
Health minister Stephen Hammond has today commissioned the probe amid concerns incidents were “not reported or adequately investigated” by the trust.
“We are prepared to take any action that is necessary to prevent such occurrences in the future”
Work will commence “immediately” and a report into the findings is expected by the end of 2020, according to the government.
The investigation will cover 2010 to 2014 – the same period as the previous inquiry – and Mr Hammond said no stone would be left unturned.
The review will again be led by Dr Bill Kirkup, who will build on his previous findings.
The new investigation will publish its terms of reference once they are agreed by Dr Kirkup, noted the Department of Health and Social Care in a statement.
In his last report published in February 2018, Dr Kirkup said Liverpool Community Health had been “dysfunctional” since its creation in 2010.
He described how reckless cost cutting as part of a bid for foundation trust status had placed patient safety at risk, leading to serious lapses in care and widespread harm to patients.
A culture of bullying meant staff were afraid to speak up and safety concerns were ignored or went unrecognised, found Dr Kirkup, who also fronted the inquiry into the Morecambe Bay maternity scandal.
The government said the new investigation would draw upon fresh evidence identified by Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, which last year took over services run by Liverpool Community Health.
“We can assure staff and patients that those services are now safe”
Mersey Care spokesman
A spokesman for Mersey Care said that, after taking on the services in April 2018, it had conducted a review into “historical issues relating to case management incident reporting and record keeping in accordance” in line with recommendations made by Dr Kirkup.
“This initial review uncovered 43,000 incidents, of which 17,000 are patient safety related which we believe require further scrutiny because of poor and inconsistent record keeping, data management and gaps in processes relating to HR investigations,” the spokesman said.
He added that the trust would “co-operate fully” with the independent investigation time, and noted that community services in Liverpool were now rated “good” by the Care Quality Commission.
“We can assure staff and patients that those services are now safe and we have established robust quality assurance checks and governance in place,” said the spokesman.
Copy of Bill Kirkup
The government said the investigation “will identify individual serious patient safety incidents that were not reported or adequately investigated by Liverpool Community Health”.
Meanwhile, the BBC reported that the inquiry was expected to look into claims that at least 150 deaths were not properly investigated.
In its statement today on the inquiry, the government added that a series of historic mortality reviews will also be undertaken.
Mr Kirkup’s team would then fully investigate these incidents to “determine the scale of patient harm” and identify any learning that could be taken at a local and national level, it said.
As part of their enquiries, the panel has been asked to find out if senior leadership within the trust contributed to the delivery of unsafe patient care.
The investigation will also hear from families of former patients and affected staff.
Mr Hammond today formally asked the government arms’-length bodies NHS England and NHS Improvement to establish the inquiry.
He said: “We owe it to the patients and families affected by substandard care in Liverpool Community Health to establish the full extent of events and give them the answers they need.
“The new investigation we have commissioned will review fresh evidence to make sure no stone is left unturned,” said Mr Hammond.
“Dr Bill Kirkup and his expert panel will draw upon his knowledge and experience in this area to oversee a thorough and independent investigation and we await his recommendations,” he said.
He added: “We are prepared to take any action that is necessary – locally or nationally – to prevent such occurrences in the future.”
“I strongly support this important piece of work to give patients and families the answers they need”
Bill McCarthy, regional director for NHS England and NHS Improvement in the North West, said: “I strongly support this important piece of work to give patients and families the answers they need.”
Services provided by the trust included adult care, child and adolescent care, community dentistry and public health. It also provided prison healthcare services at HMP Liverpool and subsequently acquired responsibility for community services in Sefton.