• Transcripts of 118 interviews could take until autumn 2016 to be published
  • Morecambe Bay inquiry chair Bill Kirkup says timescale is a “surprise”
  • Witnesses to the inquiry included senior NHS figures

PATIENT SAFETY: Transcripts of interviews carried out for the Morecambe Bay inquiry will not be made public until autumn 2016, HSJ can reveal.

The long delay in publishing the transcripts of the 118 witness interviews conducted by the investigation into infant and maternal deaths at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust has been criticised by families and surprised inquiry chair Bill Kirkup.

Dr Kirkup told HSJ in February 2014 that evidence summaries would be made public and the inquiry wanted to be “transparent”.

HSJ requested copies of all the transcripts after the documentation was handed over to the Department of Health last month.

Witnesses to the inquiry included NHS England chief nursing officer Jane Cummings, previous Monitor chief executive David Bennett, former CQC chief Cynthia Bower and former NHS England chief executive Sir David Nicholson.

In a statement to HSJ the DH said: “In line with the government’s commitment to openness and transparency and the clear intention of the investigation chairman, the DH intends to publish the official records about the establishment and functioning of the Morecambe Bay investigation, as well as the records of open session interviews by the panel.

“The publication will be as soon as practicable once the papers have been reviewed to remove any personal data. Given the volume of material to review and the numbers of individuals to consult, the process may take up to the autumn of 2016.”

Dr Kirkup said he was surprised by the prolonged timescale and hoped the transcripts could be released as soon as possible.

He said: “We were explicit with both interviewees and families that the records of interviews would be available after completion of the investigation in accordance with freedom of information legislation, but not anything in the part of the interview dealing with clinically confidential material.

“The timescale was a surprise, because we were careful to exclude anything from the main part of the interview that could not be made public. I appreciate that the records have to be checked to ensure there are no personal details such as addresses and telephone numbers. Other than that there seems no reason for the full records not to be published.”

He explained: “The main part of each interview was a discussion in which we talked about everything except clinical information concerning individual cases. We then asked family observers to leave so that we could ask interviewees about individual clinical information that would be treated in confidence. We did, as a matter of policy, invite anyone who wanted to whistle blow to do so but as it happened nobody did.”

Dr Kirkup said it would be “helpful if the information was released as quickly as possible”, but added that all significant detail was included in his final report.

James Titcombe, who campaigned with other families for an inquiry after the death of his son Joshua, said: “It’s a really shocking amount of time and it’s unacceptable that it will take so long. The first Francis inquiry was able to make transcripts available the next day so why on earth would it take this long?

“There was never an agreement that people would have off the record conversations behind closed doors – families were told that the closed sessions were only to discuss other cases. The full records should be made available with redactions where appropriate.

“In the spirit of being open and transparent, which is what we were told this inquiry would be, they need to act quicker.”

The DH said it had a responsibility to check the transcripts contained nothing that needs redaction as it was not present during the interviews and it said every interviewee would need to be contacted “sensitively” to be told information will be released.

It said if the work was finished sooner the transcripts would be published earlier than autumn 2016.