Midwife negligence responsible for deaths at Furness General Hospital

A recent report has highlighted how lives were unnecessarily put at risk when health regulator Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) failed to act on information supplied to it by the police, raising the potential for medical negligence claims as a result.

Major failures in care are believed to have attributed to the deaths of at least 19 mothers and babies from 2004 – 2012 at Furness General Hospital, which is one of the five hospitals managed and part of the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. A previous enquiry into the deaths concluded that 13 of the women and babies would have lived had better care have been provided placing the hospital at risk of hospital negligence claims being pursued by those affected.

The failing in care led to 10 stillbirths, 6 neonatal deaths and 3 deaths of mothers during the time period.

A report by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) Lessons Learned review found that in some instances the NMC took up to eight years to begin hearings regarding a midwife’s fitness to practice, despite concerns being raised, in some instances by the police. Poor record keeping, the mishandling of bereaved families and lengthy delays are all reported by the Professional Standards Authority. Most alarmingly the report highlighted that there was no evidence of the NMC investigating or acting on the information it was given by the Cumbria Police regarding 22 cases it had investigated at the hospital.

The hearings resulted in one midwife being struck off 11 years after the first concerns about her practice arose, raising concern about the potential midwife negligence claims that may arise from the poor care that has been provided. Two midwives were struck off after they had retired and one midwife was suspended for nine months despite the panel not having any concerns about the safety of her practice.

The delay in considering the complaints regarding the quality of care is likely to have led to further avoidable deaths occurring and increased likelihood of birth injuries and other avoidable errors. These can have severe consequences on both mother and baby and the wider family. In instances where poor quality of care has led to an adverse outcome it may be possible to seek birth injury compensation. Given the devastating impact that poor care or medical negligence can have on a baby, those affected by the scandal may wish to pursue a birth injury to baby claim.

Bereaved parents James Titcombe, Liza Brady and Carl Hendrickson said:

“We were particularly horrified that even when Cumbria police directly raised significant issues, the NMC effectively ignored the information for almost two years. Whilst this was going on, serious incidents involving registrants [midwives] under investigation continued, meaning lives were undoubtedly put at risk. Avoidable tragedies continued to happen that could well have been prevented.”

The NMC has stated that lessons have been learnt from the tragedies at Furness General Hospital and as a result of the poor management of these cases the CEO has stepped down.

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