NMC apologises for failings in Morecambe Bay scandal

The NMC apologised over the Morecambe Bay scandal, with Council chair Philip Graf saying it had not acted quickly enough

Furness General Hospital in Cumbria. Picture: Alamy

The Nursing and Midwifery Council apologised for its failings over the Morecambe Bay scandal at a Commons committee meeting on Tuesday, with Council chair Philip Graf admitting it had put lives at risk by not acting quickly enough.

The NMC’s outgoing chief executive Jackie Smith sought to assure members of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee that the regulator is not a failing organisation, after they raised concerns over its handling of the scandal and its culture, transparency and role.

The Commons meeting followed a damning report by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) into the NMC’s response to questions about the fitness to practise of midwives at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria between 2004 and 2012.

Deaths could have been avoided

The report said the NMC had failed to act on police information for almost two years and the deaths of at least 13 mothers and babies could have been avoided.

Ms Smith said the organisation had come a long way since then. ‘The PSA very recently concluded we are meeting 22 out of the 24 standards. So I would suggest this is not an organisation that is failing,’ she told the committee.

In response to Mr Graf’s apology, Conservative MP Derek Thomas asked: ‘Is this a significant enough apology? Lives were lost, our information suggests 13 outcomes could have been different, had things been done differently.’

‘I don’t think we were responsible for the deaths of those babies’

Philip Graf, NMC Council chair

Mr Graf replied: ‘Our delay in dealing with the cases probably led to midwives – who shouldn’t have been practising – practising, therefore there was for sure an increased risk that death happened.

‘But I don’t think we were responsible for the deaths of those babies.’

Many questions from MPs centred on whether the NMC had improved its culture and transparency, with the committee asking why certain documents went missing or were not made available to families on request.

NMC director of fitness to practise Matthew McClelland was unable to say what had happened to the chronology records concerning the care of one of the children who died, Joshua Titcombe, but Mr Graf assured MPs that record keeping had since improved.

Treatment of bereaved parent

Conservative MP Andrew Selous asked whose decision it was to monitor bereaved parent James Titcombe on social media and ‘treat him as a hostile who needed to be managed?’

Ms Smith said there was no corporate decision, but the NMC’s communications team monitor ‘all sorts of people’ to see what is being said about the body.

Labour MP Paul Williams suggested the NMC’s relationship with midwives may be deteriorating and questioned if nurses and midwives should have separate regulators, as recommended by a Law Commission report in 2014.

Ms Smith admitted the regulator’s relationship with midwives needed to improve

He cited Dr Helen Shallow’s resignation from the NMC last month, referring to her claims that derogatory comments made towards midwives were dismissed as banter by the regulator.

Ms Smith admitted the regulator’s relationship with midwives needed to improve, but said revalidation and work on new midwife proficiency standards was helping. She denied that midwives were the ‘poor relation’ of the NMC.

Mr Graf said it made sense to keep the professions together due to ‘sufficient commonality’ and the need for ‘expertise and scale’.

MPs asked if Ms Smith would have kept her job had she not resigned two days before the report was published. Mr Graf said she would.

At the end of the session, Ms Smith called for all regulators to move away from public punishment over genuine mistakes to an open culture that encouraged people to speak out.

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