Health

Legal action over Furness General Hospital deaths

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionJames Titcombe tells the BBC about his son Joshua's death in June 2011

More than 30 families have taken legal action against a hospital in north-west England for a catalogue of baby and maternal deaths and injuries.

They blame poor care and medical negligence at Furness General Hospital at Morecambe Bay in Cumbria.

Parents also allege that important reports were suppressed in the run-up to the local NHS trust achieving foundation trust status in March 2010.

The trust said there was "no denying" families were let down in the past.

The hospital is at the centre of the scandal which is now the subject of a number of investigations including a police inquiry.

Since June 2011, a team of 15 detectives have been investigating a number of deaths at the hospital.

Parents and NHS staff have been interviewed and the BBC understands that police are looking into the possibility of bringing corporate manslaughter charges against the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation NHS Trust.

James Titcombe, a nuclear engineer living near Barrow-in-Furness, told the BBC how he watched his son Joshua die at just nine days old in November 2008.

Mr Titcombe and his wife, Hoa, are one of five sets of parents to have settled their claim with the trust.

The coroner heard that midwives and medical staff made 10 serious errors that contributed to Joshua's death including a failure to detect and monitor the baby's infection and a failure to provide care before and after birth.

"We asked repeatedly if Joshua should have antibiotics and we were told 'No, he didn't'," said Mr Titcombe.

"He was wheezing and he wasn't feeding properly and my wife called the emergency bell because he was grunting.

"And every time we were told Joshua was fine and that there was nothing to worry about. At no stage was a doctor ever called."

Mr Titcombe described how and his wife watched helplessly as Joshua died from sepsis.

To make matters worse, Joshua's progress chart went missing, never to re-emerge and the coroner later said there was a suspicion that it may have been deliberately destroyed.

Investigation

The government has announced an inquiry to be held in public and there are other investigations into two other NHS bodies in relation to Morecambe Bay.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionDr Ashton: If people don't know where things are going wrong then you are working blind

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) stands accused of hindering an investigation into parents' concerns, as well as allowing the trust to get foundation status despite allegations about the standards of the maternity services.

The Health Ombudsman is investigating allegations of poor supervision by the North West Strategic Health Authority.

One of the most serious allegations against the trust is that it suppressed the damning findings of an internal inquiry into maternity services led by nursing expert Dame Pauline Fielding. The report made wide-ranging criticisms.

The report described the team working as "dysfunctional in some parts of the maternity services" and that consultants were preoccupied with their own agendas possessing "little confidence in the clinical leadership" while the management had failed to "establish a common cultureā€¦ within which good practice could flourish".

In February 2012, a separate report commissioned by the foundation trust's supervisory body, Monitor, also criticised managers.

In the report, the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers said the trust lacked a "risk management culture", adding that some doctors who had voiced concerns over patient safety had felt ignored.

Dr John Ashton, currently director of public health for Cumbria, told the BBC that he had concerns about the management of the trust for some years.

"I was with a senior manager at Morecambe Bay when he was told about the death of neonatal baby some months after it had taken place," said Dr Ashton, who has recently been appointed as the next president of the Faculty of Public Health.

"It beggars belief that the trust kept the Fielding Report secret. If you've got weak clinical governance, that's a disaster waiting to happen.

"And I think it's quite clear that there's been weak clinical governance at Morecambe Bay for a long time and it wasn't being taken seriously at a board level."

Baby deaths

Of the 37 cases of litigation, 23 were started in the past two years. These 23 cases involve nine baby deaths and eight cases of cerebral palsy. Since 2002, the legal cases have involved the deaths of 14 babies and two mothers.

The CQC said it would publish the findings of an inquiry into its alleged failings by accountants Grant Thornton. A spokesman for the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust said he could not comment on individual cases due to the police inquiry.

John Cowdall, trust chairman, said: "There is no denying that the trust has let women and their families down in the past and there are things that should have been done differently.

"Although we can't change the past, the new trust board is determined that we can learn from it and we will ensure we continue to do so.

"Due to the ongoing police investigation into the deaths of babies and mothers following care received at Furness General Hospital, it would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases. We will continue to co-operate fully and openly with the police."

"The new trust board is resolute in its determination that this trust will never let anyone down again in the way it did in the past, and we will not accept second best for our patients."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites