Hospital Regulator, The Care Quality Commission, ordered the destruction of a report that found negligence at the Furness Hospital Maternity Unit had led to the death of at least eight babies. These are the findings of a new report by the watchdog, conducted by Grant Thornton – which accuses the watchdog of deliberately covering up its own failures in properly inspecting conditions at the Maternity Unity involved. This disgraceful scandal, which would have remained uncovered by for the efforts of one grieving Dad, is all the more lamentable for its inevitability.
What Happened in Morecambe Maternity Unit?
The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, which includes Furness Hospital, serves 365,000 people and received a clean bill of health from both the CQC and Monitor in 2010, despite serious problems recorded for two years previously.
A police investigation into infant deaths at the maternity unit followed the 2011 inquest into the death of Joshua Titcombe (pictured above), nine days after his birth at the hospital in October 2008. The inquest discovered Joshua would have had a 90% chance of survival, if he had received the proper drugs and medical attention.
The Trust now faces more than 30 claims for compensation over deaths of, or injuries to, mothers and babies in its Maternity Unit. The Grant Thornton paper reveals a member of staff claiming they were ordered to destroy all copies of an internal review which found the CQC had made serious failures to prevent the deaths by negligence of the Furness Hospital Maternity Unit. When asking what next steps to take, the senior manager responded:
“Are you kidding me? This can never be in a public domain nor subject to FOI (a freedom of information request). Read my lips.”
This is yet another example of an NHS pushed to breaking point, a toothless regulator, the public who rely on it paying the price – and a culture of silence and suppression.
NHS Gagging Orders
A Freedom of Information request has revealed 52 NHS staff have been paid £2m by their hospitals in gagging orders which ban them from reporting significant failures of private healthcare providers operating NHS contracts, against the public interest. The Head of NHS England, Sir David Nicholson had previously testified before the Public Accounts Committee that no such orders had been issued.
We do not yet know what these staff were paid to remain silent about, but given recent discoveries which people were not paid to remain silent about, we should brace ourselves for the worst.
Last year, Serco – the private firm delivering out of hours GP service in Cornwall – admitted it had grossly understaffed its service, failed to meet performance and so falsified more than 250 reports to the NHS. The firm had essentially lied to the NHS about completing procedures, calls and follow ups, which it had neglected to perform.
It was discovered later that the contract with Serco provided no mechanism by which to even fine Serco, let alone end the contract, so they remain un-punished, delivering a service they have demonstrated they are unfit to manage.
Paediatric Services (surgery and care of sick children) at the BMI Mount Alvernia hospital in Surrey, which held a contract for referred NHS patients was found to fail eight out of nine care standards by the Care Quality Commission. The watchdog discovered what it terms ‘life threatening’ failures at the hospital, stating that “Medical, surgical and some nursing practices at BMI Mount Alvernia Hospital were so poor that people were put at significant risk…One of the most serious concerns was the care of children admitted for surgery”. Failings included children being operated on without parental consent, a child being given a nerve block on the wrong side of their body before surgery, resuscitation teams failing to respond to emergency calls, and children being operated on by a surgeon without gloves and whose shirt-sleeves were stained with the blood of other patients. While NHS referrals to the hospital have ceased, BMI retains its £200m a year contract to provide services to the NHS.
These are just two failures amid a growing pile of failures which the NHS is paying for, both in rectifying medical mistakes made by private firms, or compensating those who have suffered.
Private firms now have a massive and increasing stake in our NHS. Private firms treat almost one in five of NHS patients for certain conditions, carrying out 17% of hip replacements and hernia repairs, 10% of all trauma patients (broken limbs etc.) and 6% of all gall bladder removals in England.
This Cannot Go On
With NHS staff being paid for their silence – how many other failures do we know nothing about? This leaves the entire responsibility for discovering malpractice and underperformance in the hands of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – itself in crisis.
The CQC watchdog has little over 2,000 staff; they are responsible for monitoring 174 NHS Trusts, employing more than 1.4 million staff, managing 4.6 million hospital admissions leading to surgical care each year, let alone the private providers. A staff survey this year found that just 16% of the 1,473 respondents at the CQC felt the regulator was well managed, just 14% had confidence in the decisions made by the Executive team and a mere 8% felt change was well managed. Yet it is this woefully under staffed, poorly managed unit which is the only system we have for identifying healthcare failures, while NHS Executives pay staff to keep their mouths shut.
Now we find that even this last, insufficient bastion of oversight is itself suppressing scandals in our hospitals which are leading to the death and injury of pregnant mothers and babies.
It is an outrage.