Morecambe Bay Scandal Widens as Ombudsman Admits Serious Errors

5 February 2014

Morecambe Bay Scandal Widens as Ombudsman Admits Serious Errors

After admitting errors in the Morecambe Bay scandal, NHS watchdog the Health Service Ombudsman has been accused of refusing to examine the majority of cases, with only 2.5% of the complaints they received actually being investigated to their full extent.

16,000 patient complaints were made last year regarding the Morecambe Bay hospital scandal, where up to 16 babies died due to neglect and poor care, with only 400 of the complaints being fully investigated. The shocking statistic arose after the NHS watchdog admitted that less than 3% of the complaints which came through to them were “fully investigated”-leading to widespread accusations that the watchdog has failed thousands of patients and bereaved relatives.

The figures were leaked in a report seen by a major newspaper outlet. The Health Service Ombudsman wields the strongest degree of power in being able to deal with NHS complaints and their own records showed that the vast majority of those complaining were told that an investigation was pointless as it would achieve anything, that there was no case to answer or that they themselves should return to the trust or hospital and argue the case through with them directly.

Mistreatment.com received a number of enquiries from members of the public about incidents of poor treatment at Morecambe Bay with regards to paediatric care and has a number of specialist teams who can provide advice to parents about their rights and how to make a medical negligence claim. If you or a loved one has experienced poor care at any other trust or hospital, our specialist teams can provide free advice in the first instance about where you stand.

“A disaster for patients”

Bereaved parents lamented that the findings were “a disaster for patients” while health experts said the organisation was “virtually ignoring” those families who were desperately seeking answers about what happened to their loved ones.

One of the most significant incidents and which raised awareness about events at Morecambe Bay was what happened to James and Hoa Titcombe. Their case was one which was rejected and initially dealt with the 2009 death of their baby son Joshua at Furness Hospital in Cumbria. After turning to the Ombudsman to raise a complaint about the neglect which led to the death of Joshua-failure to provide antibiotics for an infection-their concerns were rejected after explanations from the hospital proved fruitless.

“How many thousands more families have been denied answers?”

The mandate of the Ombudsman is to deal with complaints if they are not properly dealt with by the NHS, but for a five year period the concerns and complaints of the Titcombe family were entirely dismissed. Insistence on finding out what really happened and in condemning the maladministration which was seen to have occurred there, was only taken seriously by the watchdog after the scandal at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS trust was exposed last year, when NHS regulators were accused of a “cover-up” to hide their failures over the matter.

Mr Titcombe said: “I am gravely concerned. We have been fighting for years for the truth about why Joshua died but the Ombudsman refused to investigate. Now that they have they have found the hospital guilty of maladministration - but how many thousands more families have been denied answers?”

“This system just isn’t good enough”

Charlotte Leslie, a Conservative member of the Commons Health Select Committee, said: “It is absolutely disgusting that it has been such an extraordinary battle to get this result - this system just isn’t good enough.”

Prof Sir Brian Jarman, emiritus professor of Imperial College London, said: “It’s an appalling situation. These complaints - which we should treat as ‘gold dust’, because they are the lessons we need to learn to prevent future tragedies - are being virtually ignored and thrown away.”

A spokesman for the Ombudsman said: “We changed our criteria for investigating complaints last year. We now always begin our consideration of a complaint about potentially avoidable death with the assumption that we will investigate. In fact, if any complaint meets some basic tests, we will usually investigate it. These changes were prompted by feedback from people whose complaints we had not investigated.

"This means we are now giving an impartial judgement to many more people. We are now completing more investigations than ever before – 1046 investigations were completed between April - December 2013, compared to 249 in the same period the year before.”

“We conduct our investigations in private and do not discuss individual complaints.”

Mistreatment.com was created to listen to talk to people who feel that they had nobody at the NHS to listen to them when something went wrong. Members of the public who call through to us often want to raise an issue within NHS care so that somebody else is not affected the way their and their loved ones have been. Sometimes they call through to us to make a medical negligence claim because a financial settlement is needed to rebuild their life and to take care of their family. If you have experienced a form of medical mistreatment through emergency services, A&E or through surgery, for example, you can speak to the experts at Mistreatment.com