The inquiry into the murders and attempted murders of several babies by former neonatal nurse Lucy Letby has been made statutory, the government has announced.
The move, which has been widely called for by families and the health ombudsman, will mean the inquiry will have legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.
It will also mean that evidence must be heard in public, unless the inquiry chair decides otherwise.
Announced shortly after Letby was given a full life sentence for the murder of seven babies and attempted murder of six others at the Countess of Chester Hospital, the government has said the inquiry will ‘ensure vital lessons are learned and will provide answers to the parents and families impacted’.
And it will investigate the wider circumstances around what happened at the trust, including the handling of concerns and governances, and the actions taken by regulators and the wider NHS.
Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said the government had moved to put the inquiry onto a statutory footing after speaking with the families impacted earlier this week.
‘The crimes committed by Lucy Letby are truly harrowing, and my thoughts remain with the families of her victims,’ he said.
‘Following her conviction, we announced an inquiry and said the nature of this inquiry would be shaped by the families.
‘Having now discussed this with the families, we will launch a full statutory inquiry giving it the legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.’
He said the statutory public inquiry would ‘aim to give the families the answers they need and ensure lessons are learned’.
The government is set to publish the inquiry’s terms of reference, which will set out the scope of the work, ‘in due course’.
And the health secretary is currently working with colleagues across the government to identify a suitable judge to be appointed as chair.
Parliamentary and health service ombudsman Rob Behrens, who had written a letter to the government calling for the inquiry to be made statutory, welcomed the announcement.
‘It is only right that there is such an inquiry into how she was able to carry out such heinous crimes for two years before her employer raised concerns with the police,’ he said.
‘This is the only way the families can get to the truth of what happened. It’s the very least they deserve.’
However, he added that ‘a thorough, independent review of NHS leadership, accountability and culture’ was still required.
Mr Behrens warned the ‘culture of fear and defensiveness within the NHS is not isolated to this case’.
Now was the time ‘to reset the culture of the NHS’, he said, noting this could ‘only happen if we fully explore the problems and potential solutions’.
‘This culture of fear and defensiveness needs to change and be replaced by one where patient and staff voices are heard,’ he added.