MORECAMBE BAY REPORT: Row after Morecambe MP slams former health secretary over baby deaths

David Morris.
David Morris.
  • Kirkup report tells of failings which caused the deaths of 11 babies and one mother at Barrow hospital
  • David Morris MP highly critical of Labour’s former Health Secretary Andy Burnham
  • Current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Mr Burnham apologise in House of Commons

The MP for Morecambe has torn into the former Secretary of State for Health over today’s damning report into deaths at Furness General Hospital but his allegations have been labelled “cheap smears”.

David Morris has accused Andy Burnham MP of contributing to failings which caused the deaths of 11 babies and one mother at the Barrow hospital.

These were tonight labelled “cheap smears” which had “no basis” by Mr Burnham’s office.

And campaigner James Titcombe, whose son Joshua died at Furness General, thanked Mr Burnham for his “non political response” today in the House of Commons following the publication of a report into the tragedies.

The review, chaired by Dr Bill Kirkup, into serious incidents at Furness General between 2004 and 2013 uncovered a series of failures “at every level” from the maternity unit to those responsible for regulating and monitoring the trust which runs the unit.

Mr Morris said: “It is extremely disappointing that Bill Kirkup decided not to call Andy Burnham to the inquiry as it is evident that he held some useful information for the families, not least because his policies of driving trusts towards foundation status, confusion about which regulatory body was responsible for quality and lack of expert inspectors had a direct impact on the failures at Furness General.”

Andy Burnham.

Andy Burnham.

A Labour spokesman, responding to Mr Morris’ claims, said: “Today’s report backs up none of these cheap smears and David Morris should concentrate on representing his constituents rather than playing games.”

A spokesperson for the Morecambe Bay Investigation said: “The Morecambe Bay Investigation has followed all the evidence fully, both documentary and interviewees. Where this indicated any need to interview an individual, we did so. In the case of Mr Burnham, we found no evidence that would have required an interview.”

Mr Burnham was Health Secretary from June 2009 to May 2010.

Dr Kirkup’s report found that in early 2009 the trust was heavily focussed on achieving foundation status and “this played a significant part in what transpired”.

It also describes “a disturbing catalogue of missed opportunities” for various health agencies to intervene between 2009 and early 2012.

These included the Morecambe Bay Hospitals Trust and also the Department of Health, the North West Strategic Health Authority, the Care Quality Commission, Monitor and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Today Mr Burnham told the Commons: “Families in Barrow and the wider Cumbria area were badly let down by their local hospital and by the NHS as a whole.

“The Secretary of State was right to apologise to them on behalf of both the Government and the NHS and today I do the same for the previous government.

“It is hard to imagine what it must be like to lose a child or partner in these circumstances but to have that suffering intensified by the actions of the NHS is inexcusable.

“Bereaved families should never again have to fight in the way that these families have to get answers.

“This report finally gives the families the answers they should have had many years ago.

“It explains in detail both what went wrong, the appalling scale of the failings and, as you said, the opportunities missed to identify them and put them right.”

Other ministers, MPs and political candidates have been reacting to today’s report.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Commons: “In short, it was a second mid-Staffs, where the problems, albeit on a smaller scale, occurred largely over the same time period.

“There is no greater pain for a parent than to lose a child and to do so knowing it was because of mistakes that we now know were covered up makes the agony even worse.”

Amina Lone, Morecambe and Lunesdale Labour parliamentary candidate, said: “One death is one death too many and lessons have to be learned and implemented. Dr Kirkup’s report is damning of the failings of governance, oversight and transparency in our hospital trust.”

Cat Smith, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Lancaster, said: “I hope that today’s report can not only help bring some closure to the families who lost loved ones, but also ensure that mistakes like this are not made again.

“Having myself been one of the first babies born in the maternity unit at Furness General Hospital and having just welcomed my baby nephew born there last week, our local hospitals are rightly regarded as being at the heart of our communities.”

Phil Chandler, Green party candidate for Morecambe and Lunesdale, said: “So much credit is owed to the small group of relatives, patients and community members who tirelessly campaigned for this inquiry. It is through their enormous efforts that we now have a chance to protect the lives of others in the future.“

James Titcombe, father of baby Joshua Titcombe who died at Furness General, tweeted earlier today to thank Mr Burnham and Mr Hunt for “their non-political and honest response today”.

Mr Titcombe also said he would be placing flowers on his son’s grave before looking at the report’s findings.