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The Morecambe Bay scandal: David Morris sends an open letter to Andy Burnham

By Harry Phibbs
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On Wednesday there was a powerful contribution to Conservative Home from David Morris, the Conservative MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale. He represents constituents whose babies died in Morecambe Bay hospitals due to a lack of care. Their grief has been compounded by anger at the cover up.

Mr Morris was raising a constituency issue that could hardly be more serious. But his point was that it was more than that. Together with other scandals identified there has proved to be "a cover-up culture and tick-box inspection regime."

Those being held to account must include the former Health Secretary Andy Burnham. Mr Morris is determined to pursue the matter. He has written the following open letter to Andy Burnham:

Dear Mr Burnham,

What happened at Mid-Staffordshire and Morecambe Bay hospitals was a tragedy. The worst part of it for the families, is that many of these shocking events could have been avoided. It is only now that the difficult truth is coming out and we are starting to understand the terrible consequences of the twin cultures of secrecy and putting targets before patients, which took hold under the last Labour Government.

I welcome your support in Parliament for the Secretary of State for Health in his apology on behalf of the NHS, and in his call for full transparency. This Government is clearing the rot out from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and overhauling its inspection regime and I hope you will support the Government in this effort.

However, there remain serious questions for Labour to answer. In particular, there are questions about your time as Labour’s Secretary of State for Health:

1)     How much ‘pressure’ did you put on the CQC to ‘tone down’ its criticism of hospitals? You were the Labour Secretary of State for Health, when the first whitewash inspection of the Morecambe Bay NHS trust occurred in the spring of 2010. This was a crucial pre-election
season for you. The Chair of the CQC at the time, Baroness Young, later said that Health Ministers - including you, who she specifically named when giving evidence on MidStaffs – had put the regulator under ‘pressure’ to ‘tone down’criticism of hospitals around that period. What was she referring to? What is your recollection of these events? Do you now regret your role in suppressing NHS whistleblowers in early 2010?

2)     What conversations did Cynthia Bower and Baroness Young have with you, and with other Labour Ministers, about Morecambe before it was given a clean bill of health in April 2010? In the interests of full transparency, will you publish all your of official and personal emails, texts, letters, and any other relevant communications including minutes of meetings from that period in which the CQC was discussed, or at which CQC officials were present, during your tenure as Health Secretary?

3)     Only two weeks ago, why did you attack the Government’s efforts to improve care standards? You said in a speech to the NHS Confederation Conference on 7 June this year: ‘We have seen a flurry of announcements: A chief inspector of hospitals. A chief inspector of primary care. A chief inspector of social care... We see an emerging narrative about heavy-handed regulation and I want to sound a note of caution’. In the light of recent events, do you stand by these remarks? And is it still Labour policy to oppose our efforts to make the NHS safer and more compassionate?

4)     Do you still stand by Labour’s generalist inspection model for the CQC? The generalist model you implemented at the CQC failed patients and families in Morecambe. Grant Thornton’s report stated that your Labour model: ‘would send people into hospitals who might have a background in social care or in the fire service or the police, who had not worked in hospitals before’ (p. 131). Is it still Labour policy to support this model?

I look forward to your early reply. Given the public interest in these events, I am making this letter public.

Yours sincerely,

David Morris MP

Some may feel that the letter from Mr Morris on such a sensitive matter is bad form. That the death of babies "is too important for politics".  That we should instead confine ourselves to the soothing banalities about how "nobody is to blame" although "lessons must be learnt." It is that sort of mushy thinking that is the source of the problem. Mr Morris is right to ask tough questions - not just for his constituents but also for the rest of us. The culture of cover up must give way to a culture of accountability and transparency.

Mr Morris should keep asking these questions until he gets proper answers.


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