The families of children who died because of major care failures by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, have received an apology from the body meant to protect patients and the public from unsafe nurses and midwives.
Chair of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), Philip Graf, said he was “extremely sorry” for his organisation’s failings after a damning report revealed it sat on police concerns for nearly two years.
Speaking before the Health Select Committee Mr Graf asked to give an opening statement, where he listed the failures that meant families were not listened to and were put at risk as a result.
However he later said that despite the NMC’s failings it did not cause the deaths of 11 babies and one mother who died between 2004 and 2013. University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust should have acted sooner, he said.
“I am extremely sorry for our part in the families suffering over this," he said in his statement. "We didn’t listen. When we did listen, we didn’t act quickly enough. Those gaps in what we did and didn’t do have caused a risk to families."
However later in the session, he said: “Without wishing to sound defensive about it, there were other actors involved – the trust – before it came to us.”
While the delays meant midwives were on the ward who should not have been practising and increased risk, Mr Graf said: “We are not responsible for the deaths of those babies.”
It comes after a damning report by the watchdog’s watchdog, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), which showed how the NMC opted to monitor families seen as difficult for trying to get their children’s deaths investigated.
Days before the report was released in May, Jackie Smith announced she was stepping down as chief executive and registrar of the regulator.
The PSA report concluded that the length of time taken to deal with the cases is “an obvious concern” – it took more than eight years between the first complaint being received by the NMC and the final fitness to practise hearing for one of the midwives involved.
Ms Smith, who was also at the committee, said that when she joined the NMC in 2010 it took on average five years to strike of a midwife or nurse in a fitness to practise investigation. However this is now closer to 18 months.
The delay meant that midwives who were later suspended or struck off the regulator’s register continued to practise.
The panel of NMC officials were probed by MPs on the Health Committee as to why they did not act on information supplied to them by police.
Ms Smith told MPs: “The fact is that we took too long and we allowed other people to do whatever it was they were going to do while we sat back and waited. The effect of that is that it took us years to deal with these cases and that presented a risk. What’s clear in the PSA report is we would not now do that.”
In 2012, the entire organisation was “failing” she added. But Mr Graf told MPs he believed the organisation had made significant improvements since, and was working to ensure better relationships with families and trusts.
Campaigners who lost children expressed their frustration at what they saw as superficial questioning of the NMC, particularly of Ms Smith.
James Titcombe, whose son Joshua died at Furness General Hospital nine days after being born, was seen as a nuisance by staff who kept tabs on his Twitter feed and through Google Alerts the PSA report found. But the NMC denied ia “corporate decision” to monitor him.
When asked about internal NMC emails containing “disparaging, disrepectful comments” from some staff, suggesting he had not lost a child among other remarks, Ms Smith said: “It is a terrible situation, it shouldn’t have happened. We wouldn’t want staff members making those comments, it is horrible for Mr Titcombe.
“It shouldn’t happen. I sincerely hope it will never happen again. Those individuals have been spoken to. It is appalling for Mr Titcombe and I deeply regret it.”
After the hearing, Mr Titcombe tweeted: “Over the years I’ve had so many exchanges with Smith, trying desperately to argue that putting the FGH cases on hold was the wrong thing to do & that lives were at risk. She treated me with utter contempt & I absolutely believe that lives were lost as a consequence.
“When the evidence that more lives had indeed been lost whilst the NMC did nothing emerged, instead of being honest – the NMC responded with spin & PR, focusing on their reputation rather than what they needed to learn.”
Additional reporting by Press Association
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies