Scandal-hit hospital maternity unit downgraded by health inspectors

·3-min read

A scandal-hit maternity unit has been downgraded to inadequate by health inspectors - and the overall NHS trust it is part of has been told it must improve.

Care failures were previously linked to at least 12 deaths of mothers and babies at the Furness General Hospital between 2004 and 2021.

And the Care Quality Commission (CQC) says it has found a "significant downturn in the quality of services" there.

The watchdog described its report into University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust as "disappointing reading".

Ann Ford, CQG deputy chief inspector of hospitals in the north, said patients at Morecambe Bay NHS Trust were not getting the care they deserved.

The trust is comprised of Furness General Hospital (FGH) in Barrow, the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal.

All three have been rated as requiring improvement after the latest unannounced inspection in April and May. Both FGH and Westmorland General Hospital have been downgraded from their previous ratings of good.

As the FGH maternity rating dropped from good to inadequate, Ms Ford said past improvements had "not been sustained and the service has deteriorated, affecting patients and staff".

The deaths of 12 mothers and babies were linked to major care failures at FGH between 2004 and 2012 in what became known as the Morecambe Bay scandal.

The CQC said it had undertaken its inspection after it received concerns and whistleblowing information about the safety, quality and leadership of the services at all three hospitals.

It imposed conditions on the trust after the inspection of stroke services at both the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and FGH.

Inspectors said they were not assured that all patients had received care and treatment in a timely way and had therefore been exposed to risk of harm.

Inspectors said that overall, risks were not always correctly identified and appropriate mitigations put in place, and that not all senior leaders demonstrated the necessary experience or knowledge to lead effectively.

The CQC said: "There were some services where the culture was poor and had remained so for some time."

The trust's rating for being well-led dropped to inadequate, as inspectors found that risks, issues and poor performance were not always acted on by leaders "in an effective or timely manner".

This included stroke services, maternity and urgent and emergency care.

Inspectors also said: "Incidents were not consistently identified and reported on. Not all incidents were dealt with appropriately or quickly enough and there was limited thematic learning across the organisation."

The CQC said a "significant challenge" for the trust was managing the size of the financial deficit and how it was affecting operational performance and the quality of the trust.

Ms Ford said: "This recent inspection of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust makes disappointing reading.

"We found a significant downturn in the quality of services provided by the trust, and patients were not receiving the standard of care they deserve."

She added that while the trust had previously shown a capacity to make improvements in areas such as surgical services, it was "very disappointing" that the progress had "not been replicated throughout the trust".

Ms Ford said: "The improvements which were demonstrated at previous inspections of Furness General Hospital's maternity department have not been sustained and the service has deteriorated, affecting patients and staff."

While she praised the "excellent work carried out by staff within the trust who, on the whole are providing care, treating patients with compassion sometimes under difficult circumstances", she said it was clear the trust was in need of support.

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