Thirty babies and mothers are believed to have died in an NHS hospital over the last decade – because doctors and midwives refused to speak to each other. Giving evidence to a government enquiry into the deaths, midwives have said that they were reluctant to call doctors into help with difficult labours as they were made to feel irrelevant. The families of the victims are questioning why no-one has been jailed.
Suspicions over 16 deaths at hospitals run by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (MBHT) prompted health secretary Jeremy Hunt to order an investigation into 50 cases in which there was serious cause for concern over the treatment of mothers and babies, all of which took place at the hospitals between 2004 and 2013. That investigation has put the death toll as high as 30, all due to a turf war between doctors and midwives, the Sunday Times has reported.
However, medical notes containing evidence of poor care for several victims have “gone missing”, and not a single medical professional has, to date, lost their job nor been struck off, although six midwives face disciplinary hearing by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) later this year.
“If it was any other industry, people would be in jail. Everyone was interested in protecting their job. Patient safety just went out the window. Some action has to be taken,” said Carl Hendrickson, who lost his wife Nittaya and son Chester at Furness General Hospital in 2008.
James Titcombe, who lost his son Joshua in 2008 when staff at the same hospital failed to treat him for an infection, said that the delay in disciplining staff has only prolonged the anguish of the victims’ families, and has put others at similar risk.
“It is ridiculously slow… What about protecting mums and babies? The timescale is a disgrace,” he said.
The report into the investigation, which is yet to be released, is expected to show that vulnerable mothers and babies were put at risk by midwives who were not on speaking terms with doctors at the hospital. Midwives who gave evidence said that, if they called a doctor in to help with a difficult labour, they were pushed aside and made to feel irrelevant.
The report also blames a number of NHS organisations, including the Care Quality Commission (CQC) which regulates the NHS, and the parliamentary and health service ombudsmen which deals with complaints from the public, for covering up the scandal.
It is expected that the report will prompt demands for reform of the way medical staff are held to account. Pressure has been mounting for more accountability within the health service following the Mid-Staff’s hospital scandal, in which hundreds of patients lost their lives through neglect and substandard care between 2005 and 2009. Similar problems, and thousands more deaths, were subsequently found at a number of other hospitals across England.
Last week, the King’s Fund, an independent health charity, released a report calling for the “archaic” system of using local supervisory midwives to investigate complaints against their colleagues should be scrapped.