Regulator says its failings may have left lives at risk in maternity unit
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has admitted that its failure to promptly investigate concerns over deaths in the maternity unit at a Cumbrian hospital may have put lives at risk.
Up to 19 deaths between 2004 and 2012 came as a result of mistakes by staff in Furness General hospital’s maternity unit, in one of the biggest patient care scandals involving an NHS trust in England, with six neonatal deaths, 10 stillbirths and three deaths of mothers.
A report by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) published in May found the lives of mothers and babies were “undoubtedly put at risk” when the NMC ignored Cumbria police’s urgent warnings over midwives’ actions. The report was commissioned by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, after a 2015 inquiry found the maternity unit had been dysfunctional and staff were deficient in skills and knowledge.
Concerns were first raised after the death of nine-day-old Joshua Titcombe from sepsis in 2008, but it was eight years before the NMC ruled that two midwives had failed in their duty to properly care for him.
Following publication of the report, Philip Graf, the NMC’s chair, accepted there had been failings, but claimed public safety had not been put at risk.
However, an NMC statement on Wednesday accepted responsibility for all the failings in the report. “Due to our failures to act and the resulting delays in our investigations and hearings, some midwives continued to practise who may not have been safe to do so and mothers and babies may have been at risk. Further adverse events, including one death, occurred under the care of midwives already under investigation by us. The PSA concluded that it does not know whether any of these could have been prevented.”
The statement said that in 2012 “the organisation was failing at every level. We didn’t get things right. We did not listen to families or act on credible evidence from them and others.
“Multiple opportunities to take action were missed, we didn’t investigate concerns and when we did, we took too long. We are very sorry for this. We are taking the PSA report extremely seriously... As has been recognised, progress has been made since then. But there is much more we can and will do to change and improve.”
James Titcombe, Joshua’s father, said: “The comments from Philip Graf last week stating that safety wasn’t put at risk were truly shocking. However, the fact that the NMC have now finally admitted that their failures... put the lives of mothers and babies at risk is welcome.”