The role played by NHS executives in the alleged Morecambe Bay baby deaths cover-up was exposed tonight, as a buried report revealed how regional officials resisted an investigation into the trust at the centre of the scandal.
The report by the consultancy firm Deloitte found that in 2011 the North West England Strategic Health Authority (NWSHA) was “not in favour of an investigation” into University Hospital Morecambe Bay Trust, where several mothers and babies had died.
The CQC eventually agreed to begin an investigation into Morecambe Bay in January 2012, which finally uncovered the extent of the baby deaths scandal.
The authors of the Deloitte report warned that the health authority’s reluctance to approve the investigation could have been influenced by the fact that it was a “key part of the management hierarchy of the NHS, with a responsibility to protect its reputation”.
The Deloitte report was ordered by the CQC, but published quietly on the its website this year. It has only just come to light after the publication of another damning report into the scandal last week, which found that top officials at the CQC attempted to cover up its failure to act effectively over concerns about Morecambe Bay.
The NWSHA was led between 2006 and 2011 by Mike Farrar, who now heads the NHS Confederation, which represents all NHS Trusts. This week The Independent on Sunday revealed that the health service watchdog, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, is investigating complaints made by families against the authority when Mr Farrar was in charge. But the NHS Confederation insisted Mr Farrar was no longer leading the health authority when it was resisting any Morecambe Bay investigation by the CQC.
A spokesman said: “The SHA’s attitude to the January 2012 CQC investigation was formed and agreed after Mr Farrar ceased to be SHA Chief Executive in March 2011 and he played no role in that discussion or decision. Had the CQC proposed an investigation while Mike Farrar was chief executive… he would have welcomed their involvement and the SHA would have given them all the support and assistance they needed.”
The Deloitte report looks into two CQC investigations last year – one at Barking, Haveridge and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust and the other at Morecambe Bay. The review notes: “It has been reported to us that the SHA was not in favour of an investigation at either of the two trusts where one took place.”
The report concedes there are “arguably good reasons” for that, but adds that it “raises questions… about the dual, and possibly conflicting, nature of the role of an SHA, which is likely to be replicated within the NHS National Commissioning Board and which CQC needs to remain conscious of.”
A CQC spokesman confirmed that the Deloitte report had never been press-released, but insisted that some journalists had been alerted to its presence on their website. The report also found that there had been “an earlier missed opportunity” to investigate problems at the Trust.
Strategic Health Authorities were abolished in April and replaced with clinical commissioning boards.
Professor John Ashton, who was director of public health and county medical officer for Cumbria between 2007 and spring 2013, said Mr Farrar had “questions to answer” over what he told the CQC about Morecambe Bay, adding that regional health authorities like the one Farrar led had become focused on political reputation management. “The problem with the SHAs is that they were inward facing to ministers and not outward facing to the public,” he told The Independent.