The chair of the independent inquiry into failings at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay has told HSJ he wants the freedom to investigate all bodies involved – including, potentially, regulators.
In his first interview since being named inquiry chair, Bill Kirkup also revealed he hoped to begin hearing evidence within months.
Dr Kirkup said a meeting with families affected by poor maternity care at the trust had convinced him to seek agreement from the Department of Health to extend his terms of reference to cover a period ranging from 2004 to present and to examine national regulators such as the Care Quality Commission and parliamentary health service ombudsman.
“I don’t want any ‘ringfence’ around what we could look at. I don’t want to exclude anyone or the concerns they may have had,” he said.
“This will depend on where the investigation trail takes us but if we need to look at the CQC or PHSO that’s what I want us to do, without someone being able to say that’s not part of your terms of reference.
“My sense from the families is that they feel they haven’t seen everything there is to see - and they have to be confident they have by the end of this process.”
The inquiry was ordered by health minister Dan Poulter earlier this year following a number of maternal and infant deaths at Morecambe Bay between 2004 and 2008. These were highlighted in a campaign by James Titcombe, whose son Joshua died at the trust in 2008.
Dr Kirkup refused to compare his “investigation” with the work of Robert Francis QC into the problems at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, saying: “This is not going to be a root and branch review of how the regulation works.”
He continued: “I don’t have statutory powers to compel people to give evidence but I would expect people who are employed by the NHS to see it as their professional duty to accept an invitation.
“In the end anyone who has worked for the NHS has a duty to come and take part and help make it better.”
He said he hoped to appoint a “strong panel” by September, with evidence sessions beginning soon after. Dr Kirkup said the panel would include people with “expertise, skills and experience who are independent”.
Dr Kirkup, a former associate medical director at the Department of Health who served on the Hillsborough Independent Panel, said his inquiry would sit behind closed doors with a summary of evidence made public on a website soon afterwards.
The families involved would be able to observe the evidence “to make sure they are confident about the process and that we are asking the right questions”.
He said he hoped to produce the final report and recommendations “at some point next year”.
Asked whether he believed the failures at the trust would result in lessons for the wider NHS, Dr Kirkup said: “We have a duty to look at where things have gone wrong and learn from them. It is a wasted opportunity if we don’t.
“In my experience it’s unusual to look at any serious failure and there not be something for other people to be aware of.”
A draft copy of the terms of reference, previously revealed by HSJ, said the inquiry would examine the “actions, systems and processes” at the trust including the “process of foundation trust accession” and the “commissioning environment”.
The inquiry will also look to produce a series of recommendations on the lessons learned for the trust and wider NHS to prevent similar failures.