Jeremy Hunt and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) have asked the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) to carry out an independent, ‘lessons learned’ review into the NMC’s handling of the Morecambe Bay fitness-to-practise cases.
The Department of Health (DH) has, with the NMC’s agreement, asked the PSA, which oversees professional regulators, to carry out an independent investigation following months of criticism. The NMC’s investigations into the midwives involved have not been resolved more than eight years after the first complaints.
Up to 19 infants and mothers died at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust between 2004 and 2013 in cases where there were ‘significant’ or ‘major’ failures of care. Of these, the deaths of 11 babies and one mother were found to have been preventable.
The NMC ‘welcomed’ the PSA’s review, and said it has already implemented ‘important measures’ to help it handle fitness-to-practise cases.
The regulator announced in November last year that a lessons learned review would take place following the conclusion of the final Morcambe Bay fitness to practise cases in 2017.
Hunt said: ‘Given the NMC’s importance in ensuring high standards of care in nursing, health visiting and midwifery, this review will provide the public and the NMC itself with independent assurance that all the lessons from its handling of the events at Morecambe Bay have been learned and acted upon’.
PSA chief executive Harry Cayton was sent a letter by the DH on 17 February, requesting that his organisation take charge of the investigation ‘as soon as possible’. The exact terms of the review are due to be decided at a later date.
Time to ‘move forward’
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith acknowledged that the regulator took too long to deal with the cases after it delayed decisions while other investigations took place.
She said: ‘As an open and transparent organisation, committed to continuous improvement we welcome the contribution of the PSA in helping us to identify learning from our handling of these cases in order to establish where we could do things differently should a similar situation arise now.
‘We have already identified and implemented a range of important measures designed to make sure we handle cases better in the future. This includes establishing a dedicated witness liaison service to work closely with the families and individuals contributing to the fitness to practise process.
‘We cannot change what has already happened, however, we must move forward by identifying how we should do things differently in the future.’