My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health in another place about maternity care at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. The Statement is as follows.
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the independent investigation into the care of mothers and babies at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, which is being published today. I commissioned this report in September 2013 because I believed there were vital issues that needed to be addressed following serious incidents in maternity services provided by the trust dating back to 2004.
There is no greater pain than for a parent to lose a child, and to do so knowing it was because of mistakes that we now know were covered up makes the agony even worse. Nothing we say or do today can take away that pain, but we can at least provide the answers to the families’ questions about what happened and why, and in doing so try to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
We can do something else, too, which should have happened much earlier. That is, on behalf of the Government and the NHS, to apologise to every family that has suffered as a result of these terrible failures. The courage of those families in constantly reliving their sadness in a long and bitter search for the truth means that lessons will now be learnt so that other families do not have to go through the same nightmare. We pay tribute to those brave families today.
I would especially like to thank Dr Bill Kirkup and his expert panel members. This will have been a particularly difficult report to research and write, but the thoroughness and fairness of their analysis will allow us to move forward with practical actions to improve safety, not just at Morecambe Bay, but across the NHS.
Before we discuss the report in detail, I know the whole House will want to recognise that what we hear today is not typical of NHS maternity services as a whole, where 97% of new mothers report the highest levels of satisfaction. Our dedicated midwives, nurses, obstetricians and paediatricians work extremely long hours providing excellent care in the vast majority of cases. Today’s report is no reflection on their dedication and commitment, but we owe it to all of them to get to the bottom of what happened so we can make sure it never happens again.
The report found 20 instances of significant or major failings of care at Furness General Hospital, associated with three maternal deaths and the deaths of 16 babies at or shortly after birth. It concludes that different clinical care would have been expected to prevent the death of one mother and 11 babies. The report describes major failures at almost every level. There were mistakes by midwives and doctors, a failure to investigate and learn from those mistakes, and repeated failures to be honest with patients and families, including the possible destruction of medical notes. The report says that the dysfunctional nature of the maternity unit should have become obvious in early 2009, but regulatory bodies including the North West SHA, the PCTs, the CQC, Monitor and the PHSO failed to work together and missed numerous opportunities to address the issue.
The result was not just the tragedy of lives lost. It was indescribable anguish for the families left behind. James Titcombe speaks of being haunted by ‘feelings of personal guilt’ about his nine day-old son who died. ‘If only’, he says, ‘I had done more to help Joshua when he still had a chance’. Carl Hendrickson, who worked at the hospital and lost his wife and baby son, told me that he was asked to work in the same unit where they had died and even with the same equipment that had been connected to his late wife. Simon Davey and Liza Brady told me the doctor who might have saved their son Alex was shooed away by a midwife, with no one taking responsibility when he was tragically born dead. In short, it was a second Mid Staffs, where the problems, albeit on a smaller scale, occurred largely over the same time period.
In both cases perceived pressure to achieve foundation trust status led to poor care being ignored and patient safety being compromised. In both cases the regulatory system failed to address the problems quickly. In both cases families faced delay, denial and obfuscation in their search for the truth, which in this case meant that at least nine significant opportunities to intervene and save lives were missed. To those who have maintained that Mid Staffs was a one-off ‘local failure’, today’s report will give serious cause for reflection.
As a result of the new inspection regime introduced by this Government, the trust was put into special measures in June 2014. The report acknowledges improvements made since then which include more doctors and nurses, better record-keeping and incident reporting, and action to stabilise and improve maternity services, including a major programme of work to reduce stillbirths. The trust will be reinspected this summer, when an independent decision will be made about whether to remove it from special measures. But patients who use the trust will be encouraged that the report says that the trust,
‘now has the capability to recover and that the regulatory framework has the capacity to ensure that it happens’.
The whole House will want to support front-line staff in their commitment and dedication during this difficult period.
More broadly, the report points to important improvements to the regulatory framework, particularly at the CQC, which it says is now,
‘capable of effectively carrying out its role as principal quality regulator for the first time … central to this has been the introduction of a new inspection regime under a new Chief Inspector of Hospitals’.
As a result of that regime, which is recognised as the toughest and most transparent in the world, 20 hospitals—more than 10% of all NHS acute trusts—have so far been put into special measures. Most have seen encouraging signs of progress, with documented falls in mortality rates, but there remain many areas where improvements in practice and culture are still needed. Dr Kirkup makes 44 recommendations—18 are for the trust to address directly, and 26 for the wider system. The Government received the report yesterday and will examine the excellent recommendations in detail before providing a full response to the House.
However, there are some actions that I intend to implement immediately. First, the NHS is still much too slow at investigating serious incidents involving severe harm or death. The Francis inquiry was published nine years after the first problems at Mid Staffs, and today’s report is being published 11 years after the first tragedy at Furness General. The report recommends much clearer guidelines for standardised incident reporting, which I am today asking Dr Mike Durkin, director of patient safety at NHS England, to draw up and publish. However, I also believe that the NHS could benefit from a service similar to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport. Serious medical incidents should continue to be investigated locally, but where trusts feel that they would benefit from an expert independent national team to establish facts rapidly on a no-blame basis, they should be able to do so. Dr Durkin will therefore look at the possibility of setting up such a service for the NHS.
Secondly, although we have made good progress in encouraging a culture of openness and transparency in the NHS, this report makes clear that there is a long way to go. It seems medical notes were destroyed and mistakes covered up at Morecambe Bay, quite possibly because of a defensive culture where the individuals involved thought they would lose their jobs if they were discovered to have been responsible for a death. However, within sensible professional boundaries, no one should lose their job for an honest mistake made with the best of intentions. The only cardinal offence is not to report that mistake openly so that the correct lessons can be learnt.
The recent recommendations from Sir Robert Francis on creating an open and honest reporting culture in the NHS will begin to improve this, but I have today asked Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of NHS England, to review the professional codes of both doctors and nurses and to ensure that the right incentives are in place to prevent people covering up instead of reporting and learning from mistakes. Sir Bruce led the seminal Keogh inquiry into hospitals with high death rates two years ago that led to a lasting improvement in hospital safety standards and has long championed openness and transparency in healthcare. For this vital work he will lead a team which will include the Professional Standards Authority, the GMC, NMC and Health Education England, and will report back to the Health Secretary later this year.
The report also exposed systemic issues about the quality of midwifery supervision. While the investigation was underway, the King’s Fund conducted a review of midwifery regulation for the NMC, which recommended that effective local supervision needs to be carried out by individuals wholly independent from the trust they are supervising. The Government will work closely with stakeholders to agree a more effective oversight arrangement and will legislate accordingly. I have asked for proposals on the new system by the end of July this year.
For too long the NMC had the wrong culture and was too slow to take action, but I am encouraged that it has recently made improvements. Today it has apologised to the families affected by the events at Morecambe Bay. The NMC is already investigating the fitness to practise of seven midwives who worked at the trust during this time, and it will now forensically go through any further evidence gathered by the investigation to ensure that any wrongdoing or malpractice is investigated. Anyone who is found to have practised unsafely or who covered up mistakes will be held to account, which for the most serious offences includes being struck off. The NMC also has the power to pass information to the police if it feels a criminal offence may have been committed, and it will not hesitate to do so if its investigations find evidence which warrants this. The Government remain committed to legislation for further reform of the NMC at the earliest opportunity.
The report expresses a ‘degree of disquiet’ over the initial decision of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman not to investigate the death of Joshua Titcombe. I know the Public Administration Committee is already considering these issues and will want to reflect carefully on the report as it considers any improvements that can be made as part of its current inquiry.
Finally, I expect the trust to implement all 18 of the recommendations that have been assigned to it in the report. I have asked Monitor to ensure that this happens within the designated timescales, as I want to give maximum reassurance to the patients and families who are using the hospital that no time is being wasted in learning necessary lessons. We should recognise that, despite many challenges, NHS staff have made excellent progress recently in improving the quality of care, with the highest ever ratings from the public for safety and compassionate care. The tragedy we hear about today must strengthen our resolve to deliver real and lasting culture change so that these mistakes are never repeated. That is the most important commitment we can make to the memory of the 19 mothers and babies who lost their lives at Morecambe Bay, including those named in today’s report: Elleanor Bennett, Joshua Titcombe, Alex Brady-Davey, Nittaya Hendrickson and Chester Hendrickson. This Statement is their legacy, and I commend it to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his well-judged Statement and entirely echo the sentiments he expressed. Families in Barrow and the wider Cumbria area were badly let down by their local hospital and the NHS as a whole. He was right to apologise to them on behalf of both the Government and the NHS, and I do the same for the previous Government. It is hard to imagine what it must be like to lose a child or partner in these circumstances, but to have the suffering intensified by the actions of the NHS is inexcusable. Bereaved families should never again have to fight in the way that these families have had to fight to get answers. The fact that they found the strength and courage to do so will benefit others in years to come, and I pay tribute to them all, but particularly to James Titcombe. The report finally gives families the answers they should have had many years ago. It explains in detail both what went wrong and the opportunities missed to put it right.
I echo the noble Earl’s praise for Dr Bill Kirkup, the investigation team and the panel which assisted them. Our shared goal must now be to ensure that this report changes this hospital trust and the NHS as a whole for the better. Its recommendations are powerful but proportionate. We support them all, and the noble Earl can rely on our full support in introducing them at the earliest opportunity.
People’s first concern will be whether services are safe today. Clearly there are parts of this report where the alarm bell is being rung. It identifies the root cause of the failures as the dysfunctional local culture and the failure to follow national clinical guidance. There are suggestions in the report that this problem has not entirely disappeared. It says that,
“we also heard from some of the long-standing clinicians that relations with midwives had not improved and had possibly deteriorated over the last two to three years”.
It goes on,
“we saw and heard evidence that untoward incidents with worryingly similar features to those seen previously had occurred as recently as mid-2014”.
I am sure the fact that problems have been acknowledged means there is improvement. I very much take the latter point the noble Earl made in that regard, but can he say more about those findings and what steps are being taken to ensure that the trust now has the right staff and safety culture?
After safety, people will rightly want accountability, not just for the care failures but for the fact that problems were kept hidden from the regulators and the public for so long. When information did come to light it was not acted upon. Lessons were not learnt and problems were not corrected. The investigation recommends the trust formally admits the extent and nature of the problems and apologises to those affected. I am sure that this House, as well as the other place, will endorse that and want to see it done both appropriately and immediately.
Can I ask the noble Earl to ensure that any further referrals to the GMC and NMC are made without delay? Will he ensure that any managerial or administrative staff found guilty of wrongdoing are subject to appropriate action? I wonder whether it is time to revisit the issue of the regulation of managers and administrators because of this concern about staff moving on to another organisation and still being in the employ of the service, seemingly without being subject to accountability for their actions. We know a number of staff have left the trust in recent years, many with pay-offs. Will the noble Earl review those decisions in the light of the report and take whatever steps he can to ensure that those who have failed are not rewarded?
One of the central findings of the investigation is the particular challenges faced by geographically remote and isolated areas in providing health services. The investigation warns of the risks of a closed clinical culture, where,
“practice can ‘drift’ away from the standards and procedures found elsewhere”.
Given that, is not the report right to recommend a national review of maternity care and paediatrics in rural and isolated areas, and will he take that forward? Will the noble Earl comment on the concerns about the sustainability of the Cumbrian health economy? My honourable friend the Member for Copeland has today written to Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, to call for a review of the specific challenges it is facing. I hope that Ministers will be sympathetic to this call.
On the question of the CQC, the role of the regulator is to be a champion for patients, to expose poor care and to ensure that steps are taken to root it out. It is clear the regulator failed in that duty in this case. Given what was known, the decision to register the trust without conditions in April 2010 was inexplicable, as was the decision in 2012 to inspect emergency care pathways but not maternity services. In doing so, it failed to act on specific warnings. The report says there was, and remains, confusion in the system as to who has overall responsibility for monitoring standards, with overlapping regulatory responsibilities. We support the moves to makes the CQC more independent, but does the noble Earl agree that the journey of improvement at the regulator needs to continue and that there is a need for further reform, as recommended?
Will the noble Earl ensure that NHS England draws up the recommended protocol on the roles and responsibilities for all parts of the oversight system without delay and does he agree that the CQC should take prime responsibility? Does he also agree that the answer to a number of the problems identified is a much more rigorous system of review of deaths in the community and in hospitals than currently exists? Is it not the case that the reform of death certification and the introduction of a new system of independent medical examination are well overdue? We know Ministers have previously said that they are committed, in principle, to bringing this in but nothing has happened. I hope that the noble Earl will agree to bring this new system in without delay. It needs to go further, too. We need to look at mandatory reporting and investigation as serious incidents of all maternal deaths, stillbirths and unexpected neonatal deaths. We need to see how we can move to a mandatory review of case notes for every death in hospital. We have asked Professor Nick Black to advise us and inform a review which we want to conclude by the end of the month. I hope the noble Earl will support us in that review.
There are two other points I would like to raise with the noble Earl. I want to ask him about leadership of the profession nationally. He will know that maternity services are coming under great pressure at the moment. With the increase in the number of births, many maternity services are facing huge difficulties and challenges, particularly in recruiting midwives to work in those units and in making sure that they can respond to the pressures that are undoubtedly there. We do not have a chief midwifery officer, either at the Department of Health or at NHS England. I wonder whether we need a leader of the profession who can really start to raise the morale and tackle some of these issues which have been around for many years. There will be a head of profession within his department who will be working with the Chief Nursing Officer, but I wonder whether we need a more visible leadership of the profession.
The noble Earl also mentioned the work of the NMC and the King’s Fund review into midwifery supervision and regulation. I very much understand those recommendations and am very sympathetic to the need to look at this carefully. That clearly has major implications for the current supervisory role of midwives. I take the point he and, indeed, the King’s Fund report make, about that role needing to be independent of the employing authority. Can he confirm, though, that much of what supervisors do is of value and that, in moving to a new system, we would not want to lose the value of the work that current supervisors undertake? I echo the noble Earl’s views on the work of the NMC. Under the current leadership it has shown great signs of improvement, and it needs to be supported.
Finally, I pick up the point that the noble Earl made about the acceptance of honest mistakes as long as people and organisations are open. I agree with that, but could he reassure me that he believes that that philosophy is consistent with the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, in relation to the issue of doing no avoidable harm? I believe that it is. Perhaps we will come back to this when we debate the noble Lord’s Bill, but if the noble Earl was able to say that it is consistent, it would provide considerable reassurance to those health organisations that have reservations at the moment.
My Lords, I welcome the measured and constructive comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. He asked me a series of questions and I shall answer as many as I can. First, on how things are today at the trust and the safety of its services, clearly the CQC is the body best placed to make judgments about the quality of services. At the last inspection of the university hospitals of Morecambe Bay in February last year, safety in the maternity service at Furness was rated as good but overall the maternity services were assessed as requiring improvement. As a whole, the trust has been rated as inadequate. This demonstrates that, while the trust is making progress, there is still a long way to go, and it is clear that embedding changes of this nature takes time. The CQC will reinspect the trust in May 2015 and will make a judgment on whether it has made the required improvements.
The noble Lord asked about referrals to the NMC and the GMC. Where there are failings by a member of staff, they must be held to account. If an allegation is made about a medical doctor, a nurse or midwife, who may not meet the professional standards required in the UK, the relevant professional regulator has a duty to investigate—and, where necessary, to take action to safeguard the health and well-being of the public. The Department of Health is aware that the NMC and the GMC have each received a number of fitness to practise referrals linked to maternity and neonatal services provided by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. As an independent body, each of them is responsible for operational matters concerning the discharge of its statutory duties. I would hesitate—in fact, I think it would be wrong of me—to comment further on those fitness to practise cases. However, we are confident that the NMC will take account of the recommendations and findings in the report.
The noble Lord made a number of comments about managers. As he well knows, the NHS is a huge and complex service staffed by committed people who often work under a huge amount of stress. I believe that those tasked with leading our NHS organisations, whether in management positions or clinical ones, are committed to making good decisions on behalf of patients. When it becomes clear that they are not up to the job, they should be replaced. Many senior leaders at Morecambe Bay have now been replaced. The current leadership should be allowed a period of time to refocus the trust on those values that are so vital to good patient care—staff morale, sound governance, strong leadership, team working and a focus on delivering high-quality care.
On the issues that are particularly pertinent when you have NHS services that are geographically remote, NHS England has today announced details of a major review of the commissioning of NHS maternity services as promised in the five-year forward view. The review will assess current maternity care provision and consider how services should be developed to meet the changing needs of women and babies. Recent advances in maternity care, changes in the demographics of women having babies and preferences of where they want to give birth will form the key focus. This review, which is expected to report by the end of the year, will be led by an external chair, supported by a diverse panel, and will include a review of UK and international evidence on safe and efficient models of maternity services.
I listened with interest to the noble Lord’s comments on the Cumbrian health economy as a whole. I am not in a position to comment on that at the moment but, if I may do so in writing, I shall be happy to. As for further reform of the CQC, we will examine the recommendation on this score in detail and publish a full response in due course. Further consideration is needed to ensure that the overall responsibility for patient safety sits in the right part of the system and the department has already committed to consider with relevant organisations the options for transferring NHS England’s responsibilities for safety to a single national body. We will also continue to look for opportunities to improve both the operation of the oversight arrangements in place at present and the understanding of those arrangements by NHS organisations and the public.
On the matter of reviewing all deaths and picking up the recommendations around death certification, a number of the recommendations in Sir Robert Francis’s Mid Staffordshire inquiry report refer to our planned reform of the death certification system and the introduction of the role of medical examiner in England and Wales. A new system of medical examiners has been successfully trialled in a number of areas around the country. The work of the two flagship sites in Gloucestershire and Sheffield has been continued and extended to operate a medical examiner service on a city and county-wide basis on a scale that will be required for implementation by local authorities when legislation is introduced. We will publish shortly a report from the interim national medical examiner, setting out the lessons learnt from the pilot sites. I hope that that gives the noble Lord an indication that this is work very much in progress.
On mandatory reporting of maternal, stillbirth and neonatal deaths, the Government are committed to doing further work to review avoidable deaths. We are working with NHS England to introduce a national standard approach for undertaking case-note review. This has the potential to enable NHS trusts to develop a better understanding of avoidable deaths. However, a top-down approach to ensuring that every trust reviews every death is not, in our view, appropriate. Our aim is to ensure that trusts focus their efforts on improving patient safety through learning about the root causes that have led to avoidable death. A systematic, but not necessarily burdensome, approach is needed, which is why we are moving ahead to develop a national rate and produce an estimated number of avoidable deaths for each hospital. The numbers will be made public. Trusts will be expected to report annually to the Secretary of State for Health on their actions to reduce avoidable deaths.
The noble Lord made a very interesting suggestion about the possible appointment of a chief midwifery officer. I would be happy to consider that idea. Of course, he knows that there is a head of maternity in NHS England at the moment.
On the performance of the NMC, it is, as the noble Lord is well aware, an independent body accountable to Parliament, via the Privy Council, for the way in which it carries out its responsibilities. In addition, its performance is monitored by the PSA, and the Health Select Committee has also chosen in recent years to hold an annual accountability hearing with NMC leadership. So there are a variety of robust measures in place to hold the NMC to account. I am aware that the performance of the NMC has a troubled history, which is why Ministers commissioned the Professional Standards Authority’s predecessor body, the CHRE, to undertake a full strategic review in 2012. As noble Lords will remember, the final report of the strategic review was published, putting forward 15 high-level recommendations for improvement in delivering the NMC’s regulatory functions, with the expectation that demonstrable improvements should be seen within two years. We welcome the new NMC chair and we hope that, under Dame Janet’s leadership, it will continue to make improvements to become a confident and capable regulator.
My Lords, back in 2006 the Minister and I had the unhappy experience of being in opposition when the NHS Redress Act went through your Lordships’ House. We are both on record as saying at the time that we felt that it was a fairly inadequate piece of legislation. I think the 44 recommendations in this report are searing evidence that that is in fact the case.
In the wake of the reports by Dame Carol Black, Sir Robert Francis and Sir Bruce Keogh, does the Minister agree that it is now time for a thorough root and branch review of the legislation underpinning the NHS complaints system? I have very little time in which to deal with the great many points in this report, but I wish to ask the Minister about two, which are important. First, in recommendation 27, the regulatory bodies, the GMC and the NMC, are asked to reconsider the guidance to professionals about what to do if they suspect that clinical standards or services are not being fulfilled. It seems to me that in this case there was a failure at every level in that respect. That is unacceptable. Secondly, the report points to the breakdown of the relationship between the CQC and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. They had no communication and the consequence was that the families had nowhere to go to seek redress. It is difficult because that ombudsman is both the parliamentary and the health service ombudsman for Members of Parliament to make recommendations about ways in which the health service might be reformed. Will the Government act quickly on the recommendation of this report that there should be a memorandum of understanding between the CQC and that ombudsman?
I am grateful to my noble friend and I do indeed recall our debates on the NHS Redress Act. It is telling that the previous Government chose not to bring that Act into force in the end. The recommendation in the report that there should be a fundamental review of the NHS complaints system is one that we will consider very carefully. We agree that there are still challenges to improving NHS complaints handling, including improving the culture around complaints. Those challenges have been well documented. Our work to improve complaints handling across the board was set out in our update on progress in response to the Francis inquiries in February. Complaints and how they are handled is now one of the key strands of inquiry in all inspections of the CQC.
On my noble friend’s point in relation to recommendation 27, the GMC, the NMC and the PSA have guidance in place on how to raise and act on concerns about patient safety. We will work with these bodies to determine whether this guidance needs strengthening in the light of this report. The GMC has been undertaking its own review of how it deals with doctors who raise concerns in the public interest.
On my noble friend’s final point about the disjointedness of the CQC and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, a new MOU was signed in September 2013 which outlined how the two organisations would collaborate, co-operate and share information relating to their respective roles. It is without question that the lack of co-ordination between the CQC and the PHSO was a contributory factor to the ongoing inability of the wider system to identify and act on failings at the trust.
I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I want to pick up two points. The report by the King’s Fund relating to the supervision of midwifery said that there was a risk in changing the situation because there might be no one ready to take on the job. That is a very telling phrase in what is a very long and sad report about what has been going on. We need to be very clear. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to reassure us that the supervision of midwives, which has a long history, from 1902 to now, but in very changed circumstances, will be sustained in a way that is going to be to the benefit of mothers for the safe delivery of babies. A report like this always sends shock waves through the profession and is very sad for the families involved. We need to be clear that the action being proposed in the Statement is taken forward quickly. I notice that the supervision is supposed to be concluded by the end of July. That is a very short time to sort out a very complex system.
The second point I want to pick up is the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about a chief midwifery officer. The Minister said that he would look at that. It is not something that has been thought of very carefully. We have a Chief Nursing Officer and a director of public health and so it would be sensible to give this serious consideration, especially in light of the present situation. I ask the Minister to take that away and consider it.
On the noble Baroness’s second point, I shall of course take due note of her recommendation. It is something to which we will give very careful thought. On the principal issue that she raised about supervision, as she knows, the statutory supervision of midwives was designed more than 100 years ago—in 1902, I believe—to protect the public. In our view, it no longer meets the needs of current midwifery practice. The King’s Fund was commissioned by the NMC to review midwifery regulation following the findings of the ombudsman that midwifery regulation was structurally flawed as a framework for public protection. The current structure does not differentiate between the requirements of regulation and clinical supervision.
If, as I anticipate, legislation is needed to change this—I think it is clear that it is—that is likely to take up to two years, even on the best estimate. During that time the Department of Health will work with the UK chief nursing officers, the NMC and the Royal College of Midwives to develop a four-country approach, which it has to be, as the noble Baroness will understand, to midwifery supervision that will replace the current statutory midwifery supervision. I hope that that is helpful.
My Lords, I have to admit that, as an obstetrician, when I read this report, my immediate response was intense anger, anger at this systems failure on a grand scale. None of these things should have occurred. This is not an example of failure of a mild degree or of a relationship. This is failure on a major scale. No maternity unit in the country would tolerate these kinds of tragedies occurring in their own unit.
I commend the report. I have worked with the chairman and several of the expert advisers. Dr Kirkup worked with me when I carried out the inquiry on cancer services in Gateshead. He was a member of the team and I know the others, particularly as they come from my own hospital. Professor Stewart Forsyth was neonatologist with me, and I know James Walker, whose father is responsible for all the successes I have had in obstetrics and none of the failures. His name was also James Walker.
What can we do? There is the idea of mandatory reporting of unexpected maternal deaths and stillbirths. We have a stillbirth rate in the antenatal period that has not reduced in this country for 40 years. We have unexpectedly high numbers of normally formed babies who die in the interpartum period but who should not die. If that kind of tragedy ever occurred in my unit, there was a major investigation immediately afterwards. Mandatory reporting may highlight this issue because we need to address it.
I will focus on one recommendation of the several that are addressed regarding the professional organisations in medicine and midwifery. They need to step up to the plate and respond positively to this report on what their role will be in making maternity services safer in this country. The noble Earl referred to an airline-type investigation for root cause analysis. I accept that that is absolutely necessary but it requires experience and training and it must be done soon after the event to learn the lessons that might be applicable to other maternity units. I am encouraged to hear that NHS England will carry out a review of maternity services and I hope that it will be an in-depth review with the specific purpose of making maternity services safer. It should not be about demarcation issues with which we got ourselves tied up previously between different professional groups. It should not be about relocating services. It should be about making maternity services safer.
I have lots of questions but they are not for today and I will save them for another time. I hope all of us—no matter who the Government are—will now work to make maternity services in this country among the best possible.
Does the noble Lord not agree that one of the key issues is that nurses as midwives and obstetricians no longer work together as a team? They work separately and conflict with each other instead of seeing patients together. Would that not solve many of the problems identified in this shocking report?
The noble Lord is absolutely right. That is why I said that the review must address how to make maternity services safer and not address any of the demarcation issues. I work with midwives. Midwives taught me—I have said that before in this House—so there should be no issues between different professional groups, whether they be nurses, midwives, doctors, neonatologists, anaesthetists or whoever.
My Lords, anyone who reads this report will not fail to alight on the phrase that Dr Kirkup uses—that what we had at this hospital was a “lethal mix”, comprising, among other things, substandard clinical competence, poor working relationships in the maternity unit, a move among the midwives to pursue normal childbirth at any cost, shooing obstetricians away at various points, and failures of risk assessment and care planning that led to unsafe care. All these things should pull us up short and, indeed, do so. They are shocking. We certainly expect the relevant professional regulatory bodies, including the GMC and the NMC, to review the findings of this investigation report and act on the recommendations. Those organisations should review the findings of the report concerning the professional conduct of registrants involved in the care of patients at the trust to ensure that appropriate action is taken against anyone who has broken their professional code, but building on those lessons to see whether there are wider matters around safety to be considered.
On mandatory reporting, I can only add to the remarks that I made to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, by saying that we remain totally committed to the principle of the reforms. Further progress will be informed by reconsideration of the detail of the new system in the light of other positive developments on patient safety since 2010 and by a subsequent public consultation exercise. We are working with the health departments in the devolved Administrations, NHS England and the professional bodies to consider how standardised reviews for all perinatal losses might be introduced.
My Lords, what will happen if the 18 recommendations are not put into practice? Will they apply to all hospitals across the country? The maternity service at the Friarage Hospital, Northallerton, which is my local hospital, has recently been downgraded to midwives only, to the anxiety of the local people who live in a very rural area. I hope that the noble Earl can give some assurances on safety as there are so many worried people and there will be more after this report.
My Lords, as regards Northallerton, our approach as Ministers and in the department is that service reconfiguration has to be a matter for local decision-making. We do not, as a rule, interfere with those decisions unless there is a referral from an overview and scrutiny committee in the statutory manner. I hope the noble Baroness will therefore understand that I am rather precluded from commenting on that local situation. Nevertheless, on her first point, we have asked the trust to implement the recommendations that have been assigned to it in the report. We have asked Monitor to ensure that this happens within the designated timescales to give maximum reassurance to the patients and families who are using the hospital that time is not being wasted. At a local level, the trust is in special measures. It has put in place a largely new management team, which is working towards delivering against its agreed improvement plan. Progress against that plan is being closely monitored by the quality surveillance group, thereby ensuring that the trust, CCGs, regulators and others are working together in the best interests of the local population.