An independent inquiry is to be set up to investigate poor care at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust.

The inquiry will sit in public and is expected to examine events at Furness General Hospital surrounding a number of infant and maternal deaths between 2004 and 2008.

A police investigation is currently ongoing into the deaths.

Health minister Dan Poulter revealed the inquiry plans in a letter to trust chair Sir David Henshaw  earlier this week.

It is understood the letter said: “In the wake of the Francis inquiry, we are strongly committed to ensuring the NHS observes a duty of candour.

“I don’t think that a case for a full public inquiry can currently be made. However, I agree that there appears to be a compelling argument for an independent inquiry in public when the current police investigation has concluded.”

Dr Poulter said he would convene a formal meeting of MPs, commissioners, Monitor and the trust next month.

The letter does not set out the inquiry’s terms of reference or reveal who will be asked to chair the investigation but instead Dr Poulter suggests local commissioners, MPs and patients and the public can “design a process that has the confidence of all concerned”.

He said the inquiry’s chair must be “independent”.

James Titcombe, whose son Joshua died at the trust in 2008, set up a campaign group Morecambe Bay Inquiry Action with 10 other families earlier this year.

He told HSJ: “The whole group is extremely relieved. This is hugely significant for all the families affected.

“The inquiry needs to be as wide-ranging as possible and has got to include the regulators… and the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman. It needs to speak to people affected and get all the evidence it can.

“Being held in public is really important and hopefully the NHS has learned the lessons from Mid Staffordshire and this inquiry looks at everything so we can have a safe and sustainable health service for the future.”