An inquiry into poor care at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust will not publish its final report until February as it tries to convince “reluctant” witnesses to give evidence, HSJ has learned.

The probe into maternal and infant deaths at the trust between 2004 and 2008 was originally due to report in July, before being delayed to the autumn and now into spring next year.

Among those yet to be questioned include former trust chief executive Tony Halsall who stepped down from the trust, after five years in charge, in 2012.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust

About 70 witnesses have been interviewed by the inquiry into poor care at Morecambe Bay

Some of the midwives who helped treat baby Joshua Titcombe, whose father James has campaigned to expose failings at the trust following his son’s death in 2008, have also not yet given evidence to the probe.

A progress report from the inquiry, chaired by Dr Bill Kirkup, reveals that around 70 witnesses had been interviewed with 16 due to be questioned in the coming weeks.

A further 17 witnesses who the inquiry wishes to question have yet to agree to appear.

It said: “Some are reluctant to attend an interview but the investigation is still seeking to secure their attendance.

“A good number of those who were previously reluctant to attend the investigation have now been interviewed.

“The investigation encourages all interviewees to discuss their reservations so that reassurance can be provided about the interview process.”

Mr Titcombe told HSJ he was “saddened” some witnesses were reluctant to give evidence adding: “This is a real concern. It will be a real scandal if people are allowed to avoid giving evidence.

“More than anything this was supposed to be a process to establish the truth and learn lessons for improving the health service and to provide bereaved families with the answers they need.”

The inquiry, which has examined more than 200 deaths of mothers and babies at the trust, has heard testimony from former NHS England chief executive Sir David Nicholson, former chief executive of the Care Quality Commission Cynthia Bower, and Mike Farrar, former chief executive of the NHS Confederation who also headed the North West Strategic Health Authority between 2006 and 2011.

It has also quizzed NHS England chief nursing officer Jane Cummings, who was head of nursing at the North West SHA from 2007, and former Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman Ann Abraham and her deputy Kathryn Hudson.

HSJ understands former health secretary Andy Burnham has not been asked to give evidence, although the inquiry has indicated it may invite other former Labour health ministers to give evidence.

A statement from the inquiry confirmed the delay in publishing the final report and said the timetable should not be “to the detriment of carrying out a thorough and complete investigation”.

It added that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had agreed Dr Kirkup would submit the report in February 2015.