Fitness to practise hearings against five midwives from the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust have been delayed because of legal action by their defence lawyers, HSJ has learned.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council had been intending to hold misconduct hearings against five midwives involved in the treatment of baby Joshua Titcombe, who died in October 2008 at Furness General Hospital.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust

The hearings relate to the care of Joshua Titcombe, who died at Furness General Hospital in 2008

The midwives are Greta Dixon, Holly Parkinson, Joanne Watts, Catherine McCullough and Lindsey Biggs.

At a preliminary hearing last month, lawyers acting for all five midwives revealed they were planning to lodge legal applications before the misconduct hearings take place. In a letter, seen by HSJ, the NMC said this could “substantially affect the progression of all of the cases”.

A fitness to practise panel meeting has now been scheduled to take place in early October for the sole purpose of hearing the legal arguments before the cases progress further.

It is not yet clear what legal applications the defence teams will make until they are submitted later this month.

Joshua’s father James Titcombe, who campaigned for an independent inquiry into poor care at the hospital, told HSJ he was “saddened and upset” by the delays.

He said: “It’s vital and in the public interest that open hearings take place so that the truth can be properly established. It’s coming up to what should have been Joshua’s seventh birthday and it’s disgraceful that the NMC processes have taken so long.

“These ongoing issues mean we have to constantly think about and relive what happened to Joshua. We hope that the hearings will be allowed to go ahead as soon as possible.”

So far only one midwife from the trust has been subjected to a fitness to practise hearing, out of a total of eight under investigation.

Marie Ratcliffe was struck off by the NMC earlier this year after admitting to 68 mistakes which contributed to the deaths of two babies and poor care of another 12 patients.

The Kirkup inquiry into poor care at the trust concluded that widespread system failures in the NHS had created a “lethal mix” that caused the avoidable deaths of at least 11 babies and one mother.

An NMC spokesman said: “Unfortunately, as the proceedings are ongoing we are unable to discuss what disputes there may or may not be at this stage.”