NHS North West is facing formal investigation over allegations that it failed to respond adequately to a series of infant and maternal deaths at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, Nursing Times understands.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s investigation is expected to consider collectively three separate but similar complaints about the strategic health authority’s work as a local supervisory authority for midwives.
A letter to one of the complainants from the watchdog’s office last month stated that it proposed to formally investigate their “complaints that the SHA failed to carry out adequately its functions… in relation to open and effective supervisory investigations of midwives following infant and in some cases maternal deaths” at UHMB’s Furness General Hospital.
These deaths occurred in February 2004 and during 2008. Last year Morecambe Bay became embroiled in scandal when regulators the Care Quality Commission and Monitor discovered there were still major problems its maternity services, despite their having granted it a clean bill of health and foundation trust status in 2010.
The Ombudsman’s letter, seen by Nursing Times, adds: “You have each told us that as a result of [the SHA’s alleged failures] you have each suffered distress that lessons have not been learnt and that opportunities were missed to improve the midwifery service at the trust.”
During much of the period covered by the proposed investigation Sir David Henshaw was chair of the SHA. This year he was installed as chairman of Morecambe Bay by FT regulator Monitor, as part of its effort to improve leadership at the trust.
Responding to the Ombudsman’s move, Sir David said: “I welcome any further investigation into the reasons why Morecambe Bay got into the problems it did.”
A spokeswoman for NHS North West said it was “aware of these complaints” and was “working with the Ombudsman office”.
Quality regulator the CQC this week announced that its August 2012 inspections of Morecambe Bay’s maternity services had found they were now meeting all the essential quality and safety standards inspected.
Responding to the CQC’s latest report, Jacque Gerrard, director for England at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “I welcome this report which follows a lot of hard work by the midwifery staff at the trust. Services have improved significantly and women in the area will continue to receive safe and high quality care at these units, particularly now that standards of care have improved as identified by the CQC.
“The RCM have supported staff on the ground throughout this process and have witnessed first-hand how hard the midwifery team have worked, with strong leadership from the head of midwifery.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the trust to ensure that standards remain high, and that women using the services can expect to get the high quality care they deserve.”